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Driving in Sicily, Which Way?

By Evelyn WeliverDriving in beautiful Sicily is a challenge.  The scenery is distracting — temples on top of hills, wild flowers everywhere, trees bright with lemons and oranges and roads along the Mediterranean.  But directional signs?  Well, that is a story!  There are five choices:  right, wrong, ambiguous, missing or can’t pick them out from the other twenty on the same post as you go past.  “I can’t stop,” says Del, “there is traffic.”  “Well I can’t see it.”  So we go on, turn around and try it again.  We did a lot of that.

Greek Temple

Greek Temple, Sicily. Photo by Evelyn Weliver

Mediterranean Sea

Mediterranean Sea. Photo by Evelyn Weliver

(Click on pictures to enlarge).
Let’s not forget the detours that take you off the main road up into the mountains for an hour of hairpin turns and the occasionally absent sign at a T junction. We had several cars pull up beside us and help. One man even led us part way around a hill town and then pointed out our road. The detour provided beautiful, beautiful scenery that we would have missed on the main road:  people pruning olive trees, green fields of winter wheat, fat goats and mountain ridges. It was a good thing we had snacks and water in the car as it was Sunday when very little is open in Sicily.

Detour In the mountains, Sicily Photo by Evelyn Weliver

Detour In the mountains, Sicily Photo by Evelyn Weliver

Here is an example of an ambiguous road sign.   “Do Not Enter” versus “Go This Way.”  Notice the road to the right; we went down it and that is why we rented a small car.   So small the model was a VW “UP!”  mmm. We could barely fit our luggage in behind the seat and in the back seat:  one 24″ suitcase, one 22″ case, one day pack, one 14″ carry-on.   Was the “UP!” to help us when we were dizzy from hairpin curves, or perhaps it meant,  “You will go up a lot of little mountain roads and passes.”  Ambiguous.

Road signs. We drove down road to right. Photo by Evelyn Weliver

Road signs. We drove down road to right. Photo by Evelyn Weliver

Our car, "UP!"

Our car, "UP!"

Then there are the one-way streets, lots of those.  This is good because the streets are narrow so it allows cars to park on one side and traffic to go on the other side.  In Agrigento, trying to return to our hotel, we went past where we had parked three times before finding our way out of the maze.  No, we didn’t have a GPS map system, but we did have Del’s portable GPS for walking.  He marked our hotels with that and it was very helpful.  Another couple told us the car map system didn’t always work because the buildings on the narrow streets blocked the signal.   We always purchase a detailed road map before we leave home as they are not readily available when you need them.

Now the town of Gela should have been pretty straight forward, just drive through it.  It took us over an hour.  It was market day and there were trucks loaded with fruit and vegetables parked on both sides of the street and bumper to bumper traffic.  Also, this was only our second day of driving and we were still figuring out the left arrows. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Harrumph.   The problem is at the roundabouts .  They put a bunch of town names on a sign with a left arrow.  We enter a roundabout, “Go that way, no, this way,” I say pointing both ways while Del is getting a bit hot under the collar.  (He is actually pretty patient. )

Market Day, Gela, Sicily

Market Day, Gela, Sicily. Photo by Evelyn Weliver

There was a parking space in front of a cafe.  It must have been a sign.  We were glad to stop, have a sandwich, coffee and hot chocolate and ask directions.  There is precious little English spoken in Sicily so the only part we understood was the hand language.  (We do know left, right, closed, open, thank you, please, etc.)  Just go straight and turn at the roundabout.  Oh, sure.  We looked at each other.  We proceeded to the roundabout.  Left arrow, okay, over the bridge.  We ended up at a flea market on the wrong edge of town.   We parked and Del asked two women policemen how to get to Noto.  They threw up their hands and told him, we think, follow the signs to … whatever the next little town was.  Back into the dreaded center of Gela, more roundabouts.  By this time we were figuring out that the left arrow in a roundabout meant go straight.  So, after an hour we made it through Gela.  I said, “I am never, ever going to go through Gela!!!”  And we didn’t.

Our guardian angels really worked overtime on this trip.  One cold, windy, rainy day we were high in the mountains, on a plateau.  We were tired so we pulled into a gas station/cafe for a bite to eat.  When we went on we came to hail on the road; our stop kept us out of that pelting.

In another hill town the sign pointed left (those darn left arrows) for the distant town we wanted.  We drove down through the center of town and on out through the wall and into a valley on a little road.  This couldn’t be correct.  Back up through the wall and the center of town where we asked a policeman for directions.  Turn right where we had turned left.  I looked very carefully at that sign as we drove past; it was absolutely wrong!

 

Through hill town, Sicily

Down through hill town, Sicily. Photo by Evelyn Weliver

“Chiuso”  (closed) on a barricade.  Oh great, now what.  We turned around, up the hill (of course) and Del got out to ask a man how to continue.  He points to where we had been.  Del says “Chiuso.” The man shrugs and points the opposite way, down the other side of the hill.  It worked and we got to see Mt. Etna.  Notice the grey, is it smoke?  Mt. Etna erupted two days later.

 

Mt. Etna

Mt. Etna before eruption, Sicily. Photo by Evelyn Weliver

Yes, we had a good time driving in Sicily, absorbing scenery, history and customs.  Thank goodness for friendly people, guardian angels, and a little car called “UP!”

  • Jo Anne

    Love the comments and the photos! I’m a firm believer in getting off the beaten/tourist path and exploring the countryside. It can be harrowing, and very rewarding! I’m considering a GPS when I return to France next fall.

    • Evelyn

      Glad you like it. Yes, a GPS would help in many situations.

    • Evelyn

      Glad you like it. Yes, a GPS would help in many situations.

  • Evelyn

    Gene, now I know about Sterling Moss; thank you for your comments. No, I can’t imagine racing on the roads in Sicily that is only about 200 miles from end to end and with mountain curves in many places. We enjoyed the scenery, art and history there and could have spent much more time. People told us May and June are pretty months to visit and warmer than when we went in Feb, but it was certainly beautiful even then.

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