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Italy: The Secrets of Sicily - FAQ
With such a rich and varied itinerary and so many aspects to touring Sicily, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to start preparing for The Secrets of Sicily tour. We are here to help. Below, you'll find some useful information you'll need as you get ready for your Italian adventure.
Italy is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States. Like most European countries, Italy has daylight savings time which lasts from April to September. It moves its clocks ahead an hour in late spring and an hour back in the fall, corresponding roughly to daylight savings time in the United States, but the exact dates vary. When it's noon in Palermo, it's 6 a.m. in New York and 3 a.m. in San Francisco.
There are so many beautiful things to bring back with you from Sicily, so make sure you have enough space left in your suitcase. You do not need formal clothing for this trip. Some people like to dress up if they are visiting high-end restaurants, but this is optional. Some churches may require that you cover your bare shoulders and legs when entering, so it's useful to carry a light scarf with you. Since we'll be walking quite a bit, you should pack your most comfortable walking shoes to bring with you. For the Mount Etna excursion, you will need a jacket, as well as gloves, hat and a scarf, but these can be easily purchased right before ascending Mount Etna.
Visitors from the US, Canada and Australia need a valid passport to enter Italy and the European Union, but visas are not required for Americans, Canadians or Australians visiting for less than 3 months. If you are a citizen of another E.U. country, you do not need a passport, only an identity card. Your passport must be valid for at least 3 months after the date you intend to leave the European Union. Before traveling abroad it's a good idea to make two photocopies of your passport, your driver's license and your credit cards. Leave one copy at home with a trusted person and another in your suitcase.
|ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE INFORMATION |
The tour starts at 4:00PM on Thursday, October 17, 2019 in Palermo (you should arrive at Falcone–Borsellino Palermo Airport, code: PMO). Your flight should arrive no later than 2:00PM. You'll probably depart North America on Wednesday, October 16, 2019. If you are prone to jet lag and travel fatigue, we recommend arriving a day early. We have arranged for individual airport transfers on arrival in accordance with your flight, and you will be met by a chauffeur on your arrival in Palermo.
This tour ends after breakfast on Saturday, October 26, 2019 in Catania, and you will have an individual private transfer from our hotel in Syracuse to the Catania Airport (code: CTA) according to your flight's departure time. If you need help with your flights to Italy, please feel free to give us a call.
To avoid jet lag (common when crossing more than five time zones), you should drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eat light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight, exercise and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep and so on) as soon as possible.
The Italy group is limited to the maximum of 16 women + the tour director. The minimum group size is 6 women + the tour director. In addition to the tour director, the travelers will be assisted by private local guides and bus drivers, who will accompany the group throughout the tour.
In general, Sicily is viewed as a "low-risk" destination, although problems, of course, can and do occur anywhere. You don't need to get vaccinations; most food is safe and the water in cities and towns potable. If you're concerned, order bottled water. Limit your exposure to the sun, especially during the first few days, and thereafter until 11 am and then from 4 pm. Use a sunscreen with a high protection factor and apply it liberally. It is easy to get a prescription filled in towns and cities, and nearly all places throughout Italy have English-speaking doctors at hospitals with well-trained medical staffs. Italy does not offer free medical treatment to visitors. Travelers from Canada and the United States must pay for medical services rendered, but will be reimbursed by their travel insurance. You should pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry prescription medications in their original containers, with pharmacy labels. Otherwise, they may not make it through airport security. Also bring along copies of your prescriptions in case you lose your pills or run out. Don't forget an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
Most Sicilians have mineral water with their meals. Tap water is normally potable everywhere, including at public drinking fountains. Unsafe sources will be marked ACQUA NON POTABILE. Some cities along the southern coast get their water supply exclusively from a sea-water desalinator, making it non-potable. It's always good to ask first; if in doubt, stick to bottled water. Otherwise, bottled water is readily available from grocery stores, convenience stores and vending machines.
Bars, restaurants, cafes, gas stations, airports, rail stations, and all hotels have facilities, and public toilets can be found near many of the major sights. Usually they're designated as WC (water closet) or DONNE (women) and UOMINI (men). The most confusing designation is SIGNORI (gentlemen) and SIGNORE (ladies). Most toilets are western style, but you may still come across a Turkish style toilet once in a while. Many public toilets charge a small fee or employ an attendant who expects a tip, so you should always have some coins in the local currency with you. It's a good idea to carry some tissues in your pocket or purse, as they often come in handy.
Despite what stereotyping and urban legends would lead you to believe, you won't be shaken down by any mafiosi, since the Mafia is virtually invisible to tourists. That's not to say however that there aren't shady types who like to improvise the part in the hopes of gouging naive tourists. Before agreeing to use a service always ask, "Quanto costa?" (How much does it cost?), and get a clear price. If the response is "Non ti preoccupare!" (Don't worry!), walk away. Pickpocketing may be a problem. Pickpockets operate in crowded areas, while juvenile delinquents whizzing by on scooters won't think twice about knocking you down in an attempt to snatch your purse or valuables. To avoid trouble, stay away from the curb and keep your purse on the wall side of your body and place the strap across your chest. Don’t lay anything valuable on outdoor tables or chairs, where it can be easily snatched. Groups of child pickpockets have long been a particular menace, although the problem isn’t as severe as in years past. They might approach you with pieces of cardboard hiding their stealing hands. Just keep repeating a firm no!
Italian travel is as easy for women as it is for men. You may become the object of verbal admiration, but you’re probably physically safer there than you are at home. You should feel perfectly safe in Sicily, but you may, at least once during your journey encounter a flirtatious man who wants to be "helpful" to foreign ladies. Though most of the time they mean well, use your best judgment when dealing with complete strangers. Of course, it always pays to play it safe and stick to populated streets after dark. One trick that has worked wonders for solo women on the road is the fictional husband, who is always just around the corner where you’re going to meet him in five minutes.
During the Secrets of Sicily tour in Italy, we will travel by a private bus. Because of the amount of walking, especially stairs and uneven surfaces, as well as a hike on Mount Etna, this tour requires more stamina than other tours. To be able to fully enjoy the tour and participate in scheduled activities, you need to be able to walk, at a leisurely pace, up to 5 miles throughout the day, frequently on uneven surfaces and cobble stoned streets. You should be able to stand unassisted for up to 30 minutes, you should be able to climb stairs, get in and out of vehicles without assistance and manage your own luggage without assistance. Overall, this trip is not strenuous, although it is filled with activities, so it requires more energy than other, more leisurely tours (such as Tuscany).
Sicily is located less than 100 miles from the coast of North Africa and directly in the middle of the Mediterranean climate zone, which is the dry summer subtropical climate. Sicily's temperatures are moderated by the warm Mediterranean sea and its location in proximity to the equators. The coastal regions of Sicily have pleasant fall weather around 70 degrees. The island's inland mountain regions are about 15 degrees less, and Mount Etna can be about 35 degrees due to its altitude.
Italy's cities have Internet access available in internet cafes, hotel lobbies and in some public places. Internet access in rural areas may be available, but it varies widely. Cellular phone coverage is generally very good in Italy's cities and metropolitan areas, although expect limited coverage in remote or mountainous areas. All hotels where we’ll be staying have WiFi Internet available for their guests.
Voltage in Italy is 200 volts AC (50 cycles) and the plug is the typical European plug with two round prongs. Many stores in North America sell the appropriate transformers and adapters, and they can also be purchased on arrival in Palermo airport. If you bring a hair dryer, it should be a dual-voltage one, and you'll need an adapter plug. Any heat generating appliances that you bring need a transformer, and they may still not work properly with the different voltage. Small electronics which are "meant to travel", such as laptops, tablets, iPhone, etc., have dual voltage, so you only need a plug converter.
Italian, of course, is the language of the land, but English is generally understood at most attractions such as museums, hotels and restaurants that cater to visitors. Even if only a few staff members at a restaurant, for example, speak English, one person almost always does and can be summoned. As you travel in remote towns and villages, it is helpful to know a few basic phrases in Italian.
The Euro, the new single European currency, is the official currency of Italy. Each Euro is divided into 100 Eurocents. Some people like to bring local currency with them when traveling to a foreign country, but it is not needed, and depends on what you're comfortable with. We believe that the easiest way to get local currency is on arrival at the airport ATM. ATMs are common throughout Italy, you'll find them inside and outside all banks, in major shopping centers, in supermarkets and gas stations. Before leaving, you should notify your bank/credit company that you will be using your card in a foreign country, so that it doesn't get blocked for suspicious activity. You should have a 4 digit PIN to withdraw cash. Keep in mind that your bank/credit card company will charge you for each withdrawal, so you should withdraw larger amounts of cash less often.
This custom is practiced with flair in Italy, as many people depend on tips for their livelihoods. The tips for restaurants, guides and drivers are included in the cost of your tour. It is customary to tip the chambermaid .50E to 1E per day, the bellhop or porter 1.50E to 2E for carrying your bags to your room.
As a member of the European Union, Italy imposes a value-added tax (called IVA in Italy) on most goods and services. Non-E.U. (European Union) citizens are entitled to a refund of the IVA if they spend more than 155€ (approximately $225) at any one store, before tax. To claim your refund, request an invoice from the cashier at the store and take it to the Customs office (dogana) at the airport to have it stamped before you leave. Note: If you're going to another E.U. country before flying home, have it stamped at the airport Customs office of the last E.U. country you'll be in (for example, if you're flying home via Britain, have your Italian invoices stamped in London). Once back home, mail the stamped invoice (keep a photocopy for your records) back to the original vendor within 90 days of the purchase. The vendor will, sooner or later, send you a refund of the tax that you paid at the time of your original purchase. Reputable stores view this as a matter of ordinary paperwork and are business-like about it. Less-honorable stores might lose your dossier. It pays to deal with established vendors on large purchases. You can also request that the refund be credited to the credit card with which you made the purchase, and this is usually a faster procedure. Many shops are now part of the "Tax Free for Tourists" network (look for the sticker in the window). Stores participating in this network issue a check along with your invoice at the time of purchase. After you have the invoice stamped at Customs, you can redeem the check for cash directly at the Tax Free booth in the airport or mail it back in the envelope provided within 60 days.
What should you bring home from Sicily? The list is topped by food: from Panettone, marzipan, aniseed biscuits, pistacchio butter, tins of tuna to jars of caponata, capers and marmalade to bottles of wine and olive oil to unexpected treasures like 'pasta con le sarde' sauce. Everything's packaged beautifully, making this a perfect source for gifts as well as personal souvenirs. Sicily has a long-standing tradition of ceramic production and there are numerous shops selling brightly colored crockery.