Sicily 2003

by wired2theworld on May 8, 2010

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Sicily 2003

In May 2003, my mother and I went on a culinary adventure
to Sicily, the birthplace of her grandfather.
We took cooking classes from well known chefs, hunted down
little restaurants, and explored the outdoor markets of Palermo.
Well also saw ancient temples, the salt flats of
the western coastline, and the tiny Medieval towns
of the beautiful Madonie mountains.

Day 1-Flight, Cefalù, and Gangivecchio
Day 2- Gangivecchio, Cooking Lessons, and Gangi
Day 3-Regaleali Winery & Cooking Lessons
Day 4 ~AM~Regaleali Cooking Lessons
Day 4~PM~Agrigento
Day 5~Sciacca, Selinunte & Marsala
Day 6~Marsala &Trapani
Day 6~PM~ Erice, Segesta & Baglio Fontana
Day 7~Palermo
Days 8 and 9~Palermo and Home
Sicily Tips
The Last Supper: Travel Essay on Sicily
Links & Books

Note; this trip was created in a different version (older) of this blog, so the links above will take you to those pages. If you’d like to leave a comment about this trip, you can do so at the bottom of this page.

Introduction and Planning:

March 2003
This is not my first trip to Sicily. In fact, it will be my fifth trip to Italy, and my second just to Sicily. So, I wasn’t really intending on going to Italy at all when I began planning my next trip, it just sort of happened, as usual.
A couple of months ago, I was scrolling through Luxurylink.com, dreaming of all the places I’d like to go, when I came across a fantastic package trip to Sicily.

Now, like I said, I’ve been before (see our RTW Sicily trip), but my mother hasn’t been and we’ve always talked of going. She always wanted to see the town in which her grandfather was born. This trip looked amazing too, 7 nights accommodations in 5 star hotels and agriturismo locations, cooking classes, land transport, meals, all for an absurdly low opening bid price of $1470 for 2 people, not including airfare. I pitched it to my Mom and we said, “yeah, let’s go for it!” So, over the next few days, I watched the price creep up and up and then out of our range. I think it closed around $4400. Bummer. At that point though, I was hooked, and the plan began to take shape. “I can do it on my own” I thought.  “We can rent a car, book the hotels and cooking classes ourselves can’t we? After all, aren’t I the amazing travel planner everyone thinks?”

Thus the process began. I, of course, fell headfirst into my obsessive web research and if you ask me where to stay in the remote West coast of Sicily, I can give you a list of web sites to give you options. Rental car comparisons? I’ve got the dirt. Cooking classes? Winery tours? Map web sites? I’m your gal!

I started by looking at airfares….OUCH! Going in May would be pricey as we were verging on the summer “high” season. Then, my mother looked into trading in her AMEX miles for tickets on either Continental or Delta. Continental had nothing available for our dates, but Delta did. After much prodding and massaging of the schedule, we discovered that we could get 2 tickets from LAX all the way to Palermo for the small price of 100,000 AMEX miles. That saved us about $2000. Thanks Mom!

The hard part was nailing down a route, given our limited 8 days in May. As usual, I wanted to do it all and had to reel myself in. After much deliberation, we decided to focus on the central and western parts of Sicily. I didn’t want to see the same things I’d seen on the last trip and my Mother didn’t care since it would all be new to her.

Cooking Lessons:
I began with the search for single day cooking classes. For those of you who don’t know me, or just found this page, I work in the restaurant industry and was a professional chef for about 8 years which is why I have an interest in classes in “authentic” cuisine at the source. I’ve taken classes in Bali and Thailand as well and found it to be a fascinating and rewarding experience. I even teach the occasional cooking class myself here in L.A.

I posted questions on message boards and researched the classes listed in the Luxurylink package. The more I researched, the more frustrated I became, but the more I learned, the more I wanted to go. Responses from my email queries to Italy were slow in coming or nonexistent. Web sites were mostly in Italian and short on details.

Someone on the Fodor’s web site recommended Gangivecchio. When I found their web site, I was a bit disappointed at the lack of info. After a bit more research, I discovered that the property was an Abbey and has been in the Tornabene family for hundreds of years. Then I discovered an article about the matriarch of the family, Wanda Tornabene who, in order to save the family estate, opened a restaurant in the abbey in the late 1970’s. In the mid-1990’s, Wanda along with her daughter Giovanna, wrote a cookbook that won the James Beard award in 1997. Since then, they have written another book. I was sold.  I emailed the owners and asked about accommodations and cooking lessons. Paolo, the son, built an inn on the property and had rooms available. His sister, Giovanna, was available for cooking lessons. We’ll be going there as soon as we get off the plane in Palermo.

Next, the task was to track down Anna Tasca Lanza the author of her own cookbooks including The Heart Of Sicily and one of the stops on the Luxury Link auction we had passed up. After finding many more articles about her online, I emailed. No response. I emailed several other travel agents, both in Italy and the US and it took a few weeks to get responses from all of them. It turns out Anna Tasca was here in the US. Regaleali is a working farm and one of the most respected and largest wineries in Sicily. It’s expensive, but I hope it will be worth it.

Before the advent of the internet, I used to keep files of articles I ripped out of magazines, one for every location I wanted to visit. It filled an entire deep filing drawer and half of another. I pulled out the old file marked “Italy” and found about 10 articles from 1991-1998 on Sicily. In the file were two articles about Regaleali, one written by Victor Hazan, Venetian food and wine guru, and husband to cookbook author Marcella Hazan. A small world aside here-Victor Hazan is also father in law to my freshman year college roommate Lael, who is married to his son, Giuliano.

So, after much deliberation on cost (it’s a lot!), and arguing whether or not we should do the classes back to back (we should because they are located so close together and it makes no sense to backtrack), we decided to go with an overnight at Regaleali as well.
Rental Car:
Next the rental car search began. I started with Hertz.com as I’ve rented from them before with good results. A week long rental in Sicily for an compact automatic car was verging on $600. I then found italybycar which had very reasonable rates, around $400 for a week, after adding on insurance to bring deductibles to $0. I emailed them and it took about 3-4 days to get a response each time.

I had also looked at autoeurope.com which was showing me rates of over $600 as well. Then, I read some postings on the Fodors and Slowtalk message boards where it seemed that people overwhelmingly supported Autoeurope. Reports by happy users about good customer service, even after an accident, made me take another look. As it turns out, Autoeurope will match or beat another company’s bid if you send them the details. So, I did, and they came back with a bid of $430 for a week. Given what I’d read, we decided to go with them, since they are an American company that brokers with European car rental companies, and if we had a problem it would be easier to deal with them. One caveat, the bill had to be paid in advance to book, but there’s no penalty to cancel up until a day before. Also, we can pick up at the airport and drop off in the city of Palermo.

Travel Clothes:
Usually I do buy clothing specific for a trip before I leave, but almost never “official travel clothes”. Then I saw a really cute wrap dress on ebay made by TravelSmith. I thought, “great, something cute and chic for my trip!” I pictured myself wearing said dress, sipping wine on the terrace of some regal manor house. I ordered the dress (on sale) direct from TravelSmith, not ebay, so I could return it if necessary. Thank god I did, as it was horrible. Awful color and fit. Ick! I’ll stick with clothes I can try on first, thank you.”

Language:
About 11 years ago, my mother and I went to Italy for 2 weeks. Before we left I took a night school class in Italian. Since I can barely remember it, and it all seems to blend into Spanish in my head, I decided to get some language instruction CDs to listen to in my car during my horrendous commute. This time, I did buy off ebay (Pimsleur’s Italian Instant Conversation). I’d recommend it, especially if you have no knowledge of Italian at all before you begin. I was a little frustrated and wished it would go a bit faster, but that’s because I already had a base knowledge of Italian.
March 25
I think I avoided disaster today. During my obsessive checking of Italy related message boards, I discovered that Delta was planning on cutting back flights to Rome through JFK and not even starting the planned service to begin from Cincinnati May 1. We’re scheduled to fly to Rome through Cincinnati May 17! I called and got us re-ticketed through JFK (apparently they are flying that route that day) and all is well. Whew! Crisis averted…..I do wonder when they were going to let us know. Or were they?

I set up the links page today. There are links to all the message boards I frequent for information, general travel links, and eventually accommodation links.

Thanks to Pauline at Slowtalk I got the idea to become an Amazon.com affiliate. So, at the bottom of the links page, you’ll find what I purchased for this trip and direct links to them at Amazon. If you plan on getting them anyway, please order them from here and help support this website. Thanks.

April 24, 2003

Discovered today that yet again one of our flights has been canceled by Delta. I found out by going to www.delta.com and checking our itinerary. The flight we had re-booked through JFK had been canceled. All that was left was a flight through Atlanta, leaving LA two hours earlier, yet not arriving in Rome until the same time. Grrr….top that off with the fact that on the flight from Atlanta to Rome every seat is full and we can’t sit together. Instead we’ve been relegated to separate seats in the back of the plane. Needless to say, my Mother is very displeased. I’m just happy to have a seat, any seat.
 
I found a great website, www.seatguru.com,  that gives information about specific seats on specific airlines. You need to know, for example that you are flying a 767-300, and it will tell you how the specific airline is configured and which seats are best. We are not in good seats. We’ll be trying to get exit row seats upon arrival to at the airport.
 
Only 23 days to go……

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