A Week in Sicily Part 3: Up, up and away!

Flying Out

Part 3 and we haven’t even left yet. I do waffle!!!
An alarm at 5am, a quick rise and off to AirParks Gatwick (booked as part of the package with Expedia). I’m not a connoisseur of airport parking but this seemed fine, other than their new computer system not working at first. But we dropped the car off, checked in, and got the bus to the terminal. Easy peasey.
Having checked in online the day before, we did a quick and easy bag drop. We heard others checking in and not getting seats together so it seems lots of people check in online, and it’s worth doing to get the good seats.
We headed through security with it’s baffling no-liquids rules and dedicated shoe X-ray system (this always seems ridiculous but who are we to argue with the security experts). Breakfast was at “eat”. A quick sausage sandwich…pittifully small, far too expensive, and lacking ketchup, but just what we needed…and then off to the gate.
A very British flight
The flight was quite entertaining. British Airways crew are typically British. With a vague aloofness, slight lack of dedication to the job, dry humour and no apparent foreign language capability. It was fine.
The pilot was the funniest. Before we took off he informed us that “The engineers have now fixed the intercom but, in the airline industry we have a saying that the flight can’t take off until the weight of the paperwork matches the weight of the plane”. And upon landing we were welcomed to Catania Airport and blessed with the catchphrase “If you’re here on business, may it be a pleasure, and if you’re here for pleasure, may it be the business”.
The flight was good, and the little “Deli” snack pack that we got with a salmon roll and some other goodies, was surprisingly good quality.
We arrived at Catania in sunny and warmth and sat on the plane watching our baggage being grossly mishandled by Italian airport staff before heading to arrivals.
First Impressions
Don’t you find that first impressions of a foreign country are always of the loos! After a two or three hour flight you kinda need to go, and it’s the first thing that you notice is different. The brand names are different, the flushes work differently, the signs are in different languages. If I was designing an airport I’d make the toilets in arrivals the most amazing place, shiny, gleaming, spotless, automated. Just to make a good first impression. Catania’s loos were reasonable, but it alerted me to the fact that I really was no longer in the UK and I’d have to get used to things being a bit different.
Baggage collection was a bit slow. The Italians might throw your luggage around but they take they don’t do it because they’re in a hurry.
We grabbed some pizza (cheap, yummy, and needs little Italian to order) and then headed to collect our car. And guess what? IT’S BLOODY RAINING!! We’ve travelled 2000 miles to escape the crappy English “summer” weather. We’re about as far south as you can go without leaving Europe. And it’s dull, cloudy, and wet. How depressing.
Driving….getting it right!
We picked up our hire car, a little Nissan Micra with aircon, central locking, radio and all the mod cons, without needing to speak much Italian…thankfully.
We reported some un-documented scratches to a very stern Italian lady who didn’t seem to care all that much. And then the fun began.
I’ve never driven on the continent. I’d been told lots of things about it:
  • it’s fine
  • you’ll pick it up quickly
  • just follow everyone else
  • watch out for roundabouts
  • the biggest problem is grabbing the door handle instead of the gear stick
And most of them proved true.
Driving on the right wasn’t a problem at all. Judging the width of car was hard – I’m so used to having the middle and edge of the road being the other way around, and Sally let out a few muffled “eeeks” as I drifted too far right, but generally it was OK. My biggest problem was non-roundabout junctions; turning left off main roads (must remember to stay on the right) and working out which direction traffic was coming from.
So, psyched up and ready to get it right, we headed off. Now, I’m a pretty organised person. I had a little green plastic folder with our passports, all the printed-out doucumentation for the holiday, pre-paid vouchers, maps of the airport parking and hotel, and so on. So when Sally ask “Where’s the directions to the hotel?” I naturally had the answer.
“Errr…I don’t have them”
So – praise the LORD (literally!) for our borrowed SatNav. A few screen-touches and we had directions to Masseria degli Ulivi. Phew! What an idiot I am.
The drive was quick and easy. The Sicilian driving didn’t seem as crazy as I expected (though this was to change later in the week), and we arrived safely at our hotel. To find….oh.
It looks like it’s still being built.
Masseria Degli Ulivi
You hear all these nightmare stories about people turning up to their holiday destination to find that their hotel is still a pile of bricks and a bunch of uninterested builders. So when we turned through some blank, concrete pillars, into a gravel courtyard with several diggers and some big piles of aggregates, we had to do a quick double take. “It’s fine…everything’s fine” we said to ourselves.
The hotel turned out to be amazing and we think they were just building some new rooms.

Set about 15 km outside the town of Noto, Masseria degli Ulivi is a converted olive farm. Simple, but charming. Not grandiose, and fairly limited in facilities, but with only 18 rooms, an excellent (if a little expensive) restaurant on site, acres of land, a tennis court and swimming pool, and no one or nothing around for miles, it’s a perfect place for a quiet retreat, and to use as a base for exploring the historic south-east of Sicily. If you want a 5-star luxury experience, look elsewhere, but if you want to get away from it all and chill out, we’d highly recommend it.

But it was still cloudy and cold. Boooo.
We ignored the dullness and the lack of sunshine and took a very British dip in the cold swimming pool before wandering around the hotel grounds. Foreign places often feel like they’re not quite finished and this is no exception. Bits of path were missing, and it felt like they’d not quite completed some of the work they’d planned. But this is the mediterranean way and it in no way detracted from our enjoyment – I offer it as a simple observation.
We grabbed an amazing proper Italian Cappucino and set and planned our week- there’s lots to do!
The hotel dog arrived to welcome us and took a liking to my clothing. He was VERY naughty and appeared to be pretty untrained and untrainable. But he was fun to have around. Perhaps Italian phrase books should have a “dog instructions” section. I sense he didn’t understand “SIT!” and “DOWN!” but I didn’t know the Italian equivalents and my attempts at Italian-style arm waving and gesturing seemed to go unnoticed too.
We ate in the hotel’s excellent restaurant. It was expensive for a full meal with wine but really good food. Very earthy Sicilian dishes – I had Gnocci and rabbit – and truly heavenly, but strong, local wine. Worth the money, but we probably couldn’t afford to eat here all week.
We enjoyed many hours deep sleep that night!


Link: Part four