Little more than a Sunday drive south from Rome, the Two Sicilies are a world apart in mood. Europe seems left behind. The feel of the place is that different. Imagine a cultural recipe that blends the flavors of North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Mix nuances of the Nile Valley and Old Athens with a bit of Byzantium and the Holy Land. Fold in a spiritual sense that combines something of Mont-Saint-Michel and the Dome of the Rock. It is all that and still very Italian.
Out of that cultural concoction evolved what has long been recognized as the "Sicilian Mood" It is a distinctive temperament pervasive of both land and people. It comes of variant cultures in violent collision for thousands of years in the region between Naples and Palermo. It is a mood characterized during the Renaissance in the paintings of Antonello da Messina. In modern times it is no less pronounced in the writings of another Sicilian, Luigi Pirandello. Like the atmospheric qualities that permeate such great novels as Wuthering Heights, or the plays of Aeschylus and Ibsen, this mood, this intangible unity of feeling and emotion becomes the essential experience of travel in the Two Sicilies.
Given the selected setting, travel at its best meets culture and its history first hand at street level on shoeleather. These Sicilian walks meet that criterion. Take this book in hand. Use it to enjoy a unique travel experience. Let it guide you through a region that for millennia lent primary impulses to world history while sorting out a destiny of its own. The Two Sicilies always seemed near to, and often precisely on, the cutting edge of culture in the throes of invention. That made for "interesting times" for Sicilians, ponderous tomes for egghead historians, and fascinating travel for us.
A Sicilian junket has a further advantage for the jaded traveler. Travel in Sicily for the most part takes you away from the tourist mob scenes now so common on the continent. You know the places to find them: Florence, Athens, Venice and other fabulous cities cursed with the popularity problem of tourism. In contrast, the most of the sights we will guide you to in the Sicilies may be approached without having to endure gigantic convocations of tour buses and can be enjoyed without mood-shattering mobs surging this way and that with flash cubes blinding one and all to the remarkable heritage left us by the Sicilian genius. Even better, those sights compare favorably with the most prestigious attractions of the Italian north as well as with those of Greece, France and the other tourist Meccas of Europe.
In this guide to that extraordinary land, do not expect a compendium of listings and pointings typical of most guidebooks. This is a book of do-it-yourself tours presented in narrative form. The narratives describe, step by step, walks and motoring excursions along selected routes through a sequence of cities and nearby points of interest. Each tour is an encounter with culture and history met as an experience of places and things. Each tour is introduced by a background brief on the personalities and events against which your encounters with streets and structures obtain vital meanings, meanings usually missing from mere touristic viewings of assorted vestiges of a more or less obscure past.
You can get away for only a couple of weeks? Plan a "highlight" tour, or split the itinerary; for example, tour the mainland on one trip, the island on another.
Time is no problem? Then follow the book, chapter by chapter, through the complete sequence of tours. Itinerary suggestions are included in the last chapter, A Guide to the Tours. Treat those suggestions as a guide, not a regimen. Note also that cost is not a significant factor. Travel with the sumptuous extravagance of the Grand Tour or the threadbare simplicity of backpacking. The book adapts to any time frame, any style, any pocketbook.
But does it adapt to your experience as a traveler? Maybe you have never ventured out on your own in a foreign land. Perhaps you are familiar with Germany and northern Europe, but have not traveled south into the siesta regions bordering the Mediterranean. If either instance describes your background, expect to encounter a very different life style as you make your way through the Sicilies. Not that it in any way will seem threatening or unpleasant. On the contrary, enjoy it as an interesting novelty. All that is required of you is that you make compensating adjustments in your habits of doing and planning.
Specific information regarding necessary adaptations required in particular places is contained in the applicable chapters. For example, in the chapters on Naples and Palermo, which contain several in-city walking tours, introductory summaries identify days of the week, or times of day, when particular tours should not be taken because of scheduled closures of important sites to be visited along the routes.
As you read along you will also find detailed "getting around" information: trains and buses to take (bus and train numbers and schedules change over time, so treat what is given here as "typical" and not gospel), and where to get on and off; when it is best to use a rental car and where you definitely should not.
For current train schedules to allow detailed planning, go to www.raileurope.com and click on fares and schedules. Note that some trains are all reserved seat or sleeper accommodations often requiring reservations well in advance. Using our itinerary suggestions given at the end of the book, you can do that through your travel agent. Also click on single country passes for Italy if you want to go first class..
On a budget? Go second class. Try for a couchette on the couple of occasions where an overnight trip by rail is worked into your schedule.
For rental cars, we have compared and find that booking here at home before the trip saves money and time. Just be sure the rental offices are convenient to where you plan to pick up and drop your car.
Also you often will find specific general information on appropriate hotel locations at the various destinations (Consult your favorite hotel advisor for actual selection.); and, above all, these pages contain detailed instructions to guide you along your way on your in-city walks and regional tours.
That said, lets be on our way. Let's go south from Rome for the surprise of your life.