You may have been wondering where we have been the last few weeks, well never fear we are still alive! We just went on our yearly Holidays, This time to Sicily. If you have read our previous Holiday posts you know it never goes quite to plan…..
Usually we make seperate posts for where to go, food, nightlife etc but this year we are doing it in one big post and if you read on then you will see why….
Like last time we booked flights with British Airways and found a house on Airbnb to rent for 15 days. This was in Alcamo Marina west of Palermo on the northern shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
This time we got to the airport without going round and round in circles, the airline checked us in without delays, there was no issue with the flight and we got a few beers beforehand. The flight took 2 and half hours and was actually on time for once!
We were collected by the host of the Airbnb who had been talking to us via the messaging app and offered to pick us up at a special rate of €50 (Which he claimed was super cheap but we later found out that a cab cost only €35, so he ripped us off) We were driven to the house, alongside a beautiful sunset. Everything was going great!
Then we arrived in Alcamo Marina and we were lead to the house, past the building that was shown on the listing on Airbnb (The Red Arrow) and straight into a run down complex with seven apartments and a hell of a lot of noise (The Green Arrow). There was not a lot that we could do so we settled in for the night.
The apartment itself was not as described, where as everyone else had a double apartment 4 bedrooms, our one and the one next to us were split in half making it 2 bedrooms. Which when we saw it as a house, seemed ideal, with the self contained front seating area, our own garden and our own shower and barbecue area in the back. This seems just right, Alas this was not the case, the front area was shared with everyone in the block and looked onto the car park and the back garden/shower area was also shared and a number of times we had people barbecuing right outside the bedroom window. This meant there was always noise coming from every single direction at all hours of the day and night. Plus there was no privacy as people were always coming down the stairs standing on our patio, walking along the corridor up the side of the apartment and standing outside our windows to have long and loud conversations at 7am EVERY SINGLE MORNING! Not only was the noise outside, the other residence seemed unable to lift furniture and dragged chairs, tables, beds, who knows what else, back and forth over and over never stopping, this was on a marble floor directly above our heads.
But we were here, so we would make the most of it. We unpacked and went in search of a restaurant that had Vegetarian options, as we are in Europe so why would they cater for them? There were only 5 restaurants in the entire area, (4km radius) Two of them seemed permanently shut down, two of them gave us the dirtiest looks when we said ‘Senza Carne’ (Without Meat), leaving only John’s Pizza, the Restaurant in the hotel opposite the apartment and one 2km away called Quattro Canti.
So we set off to John’s, this was a mission of a walk, down a dark, dingy, rubbish filled road, over a dilapidated railway bridge and to the Pizzeria in the end a twenty five minute walk away.
John’s Pizza seems to have grown out of whatever was there before, because it doesn’t show up in the street view of Google Maps, but it is vast, easily able to accommodate a couple hundred clients, although at the busiest we only saw about 10 tables filled. So we read the menu, thank heavens for Google Translate, as the whole menu was pure Italian, we order red wine and Seafood Paste for Ash (the non veggie) and the veggie pizza to Bob. The litre of wine was delicious and get this €3, yes THREE EURO for a whole litre. The food wasn’t bad either, a good start – food wise.
The next day we crossed the road from the apartment and onto the beach and what a beach, 14km long, mostly golden sand, a few sections of stones and one section seemingly made up of bits of broken Italian Marble, yes, the old factory’s cast offs line the sea. But for our first day we settled in, in front of the sea with a couple of towels and headed into the sea as quick as possible, only to find the entire section of sea filled with green, yucky, slimy algae, making it difficult to swim and when you left the water you looked like the Swamp Thing.
It seems the Italian custom is to only go in up to your knees, splash a little water on your stomach then stand and pose in the shallows until someone spots you, then you can go and sunbathe, ‘promenade’ along the sea or play paddle ball. We however wanted to swim and swim free of being pulled down by slime. So we ended up sunbathing and fighting into the water far enough out so the algae couldn’t get us. The water was warm, not Greek temperatures, but certainly not Spain temps either.
We spent a few hours acclimatising to the weather and the surroundings, then sought out the local shops for essential food, we figured we’d get a bus and head to a proper Supermarket the next day. We found Francis Coppola’s Minimart, yes Francis Coppola! We feared the possible connections, but found a charming old guy, armed with the Google Translate App and really intent on getting us to taste the local cheese and ham. We left some €30 lighter and weighed down with supplies. The cheese wasn’t bad, the ricotta was awful and the local ‘cheap’ wine in a plastic bottle turned out to be vile, impossible to drink and ended up being cooking wine (for us at least).
We ate in, that night and headed to the beach again the next day, a different section, hoping for clearer sea, no luck, algae central once again. So we sunbathed and eventually headed back for an Italian late lunch and then thought about dinner. This time we found the Quattro Canti that showed up on Google as being a fifteen minute walk away. Yeah right! Double that at least, we walked for kilometres and were about to give up when we finally spotted lights at the end of a desolate car park. The restaurant was more exclusive and had a slightly higher price range, but a lovely open terrace right on the sea and a nice, English speaking waiter to help with the menu, he even produced English menus for us.
We were trying to speak what Italian we had learnt – Ash had been learning via MemRise and Duoloingo before going and Bob can speak Spanish but that was of little use in Italy. What Ash found was there is a real difference speaking it in conversation or trying to read a fully Italian menu, so helpful English speakers or those willing to take the time to converse were a great help throughout the holiday.
The food at Quattro Canti was good Ash had Seafood Linguine and Bob had another Veggie Pizza as there was literally no other choice. There was a large birthday party next to us, but we enjoyed the food, just not the walk back to the apartment. By now we were getting to know the area, we had worked out that Castellemmare Del Golfo (the nearest town) was only about a kilometre past the restaurant so we figured that would be our next port of call on Saturday.
However first off we found some issues with the apartment, first off the ants, the host of the AirBnB apartment – who had falsely advertised the house next door as his place – told us there are ‘always one or two ants and there was nothing to be done about it’. Yeah right, try thousands! There were ants walking in marching lines around the entire apartment, in our beds, the bathrooms, in the fridge and all over the kitchen, the host had not supplied bin bags so there was nothing to put food waste in until we used the shopping bags and there were no dishwasher tabs and no dish soap, all things hosts are meant to supply. Also these ants bite, Ash’s ankle and Bob’s hand swelled up from bites and became infected. The shower in one bathroom leaked like crazy, which meant the floor was constantly wet and slippy. The lights were so peculiar, you switched one button and a light in a completely different room would switch on/off, press the button again another light would switch on. There was no reasoning or correlation behind the placement of the switch or lights. The aircon also began acting up on the second night never fully functioning on the cold air but in the middle of the night would turn on full blast at full heat, so you would wake up sweating feeling like you were in a sauna.
Saturday came and we headed along the road out the back of the apartment and towards Castellemmare. The road run along the train track, but trains only pass four times a day, twice in each direction, at 7am, 11am, 2pm and then at 9pm and to get on the train we would have to walk to the Quattro Canti restaurant to the nearest train station and even if we got there the train didn’t always go to anywhere we wanted, in fact we never did work out where the trains went and which trains went at what time. This was due to the nonsensical time tables and maps of public transport. So we walked along rubbish filled roads, with no pavement, the cars driving on the wrong side or the wrong way down one way roads, scooters flying past at 50kmPH, the roads are also lined with big holiday homes of the locals from the town up in the mountain, the residents of Alcamo descend on the Marina at the start on June and live there until September, but none of the houses are finished, they seem (like many of the other European countries we have visited) to live by the ‘That’ll do’ attitude, whereas once the house is in a living condition they give up on finishing the house and live with the ceilings unfinished, the walls half plastered, doors hanging off and roads pot holed and cracked.
The walk to Castellemmare turned out to be 7km to the town and we had to wade through a river at 3km to save ourselves an extra km, we headed to the beach first, just across that river, by the old Marble Factory, where the beach is made up of broken lumps of marble that would cost a fortune to buy, the algae stopped and the beach was lovely, shame our place was 3km’s away! We swam and sought out fish to see, but found very few, it seems harpoons are a common snorkelling accessory and line angling from the beach are also popular, so there are few shoals of fish.
The sea like the roads and the beaches are filthy, everywhere there is plastic bags, bottles, tampons and condoms floating on the surface, that and of course the algae.
The next few days were spent searching out different parts of the 14km long beach, trying to gauge when the algae stopped and which was the cleanest section or the most pleasant. Suffice to say we didn’t find any clean sections, the part by the old factory was quiet and clear as any we found, but it was far from anything else, no shops, no roads, no bars or food.
We visited John’s Pizza a couple more times, once after walking an extra kilometre to the Sunshine Café where we were sneered at for even suggesting the meat free phrase, so we left and headed back to safety and friendly waitresses of John’s.
On the first Tuesday things got interesting! No they didn’t, things got bad. We came back from the beach for lunch and showers, while Bob went to wash off the sand and algae Ash set about doing some toast, cheese and tomatoes, The toaster sparked and (although we didn’t realise it at the time) surged the electricity and blew up Bob’s Laptop that was on charge in the bedroom. Only later when she went to turn it on did we realise it was dead.
The next day we started the ‘short walk’ (according the the locals) up to the town. ‘Short walk’ in Sicily means walking to the car and then driving, that part doesn’t count in the measurements. 7km later in the hottest part of the day, we found ourselves in the town and of course that meant siesta, so everything was shut. We wandered around, trying to find a someone that could repair the Mac but eventually we returned home (unsuccessful), tired and weary and started dinner, we put potatoes in the microwave and the microwave caught on fire. We informed the host and he appeared an hour later, we told him about the microwave and the toaster, which he promptly unplugged and sent the entire flat into blackness. The host then said he would have to get an electrician in to check and fix the wiring and after a lengthy discussion and the lights fusing 3 more times he offered to take us to an Apple repair shop and pay for the repair, the next day. He left that night leaving us without use of anything in the kitchen that night.
The next day we spent in Palermo, Sergio (The host) took us to In to Informatica Commerciale Spa, Via Notarbartolo, which is the nearest authorised retail and repair shop in Palermo. We went in handed over the laptop, tried to explain what had happened but they didn’t speak English (well supposedly 4 members of staff did but they didn’t when we were talking to them) So we were ignored, they took the laptop without running diagnostics and giving an estimate of how much the repair would cost. What we found out was the Sergio had told them to hold the laptop for a few days, he would then return and collect it. The Apple Reseller did charge the laptop (which we had already tried) and managed to get it to turned on, after 5 days of not booking the laptop in, not running any diagnostics but instead going on safari and logging into their dating profile and looking at hundreds of matches. Sergio collected it, Bob got her laptop back but it died within twenty minutes and would never turn on again. The shop claimed the battery was at least 5 years old, even though the laptop was only a year old. We have since read many reviews of the Informatica in Palermo and all say ‘DON’T GO THERE’ they are notorious for destroying laptops, changing batteries for old ones, even not returning them and selling them to other customers then denying ever having the computer in the first place.
Bob was not a happy camper, her precious laptop was dead and the host was claiming it wasn’t his fault and he had done his part, we have now discovered (after the holiday) he told AirbnB that we had agreed to forget about the repairs in favour of a couple of beers he bought us the day he took us to Palermo. So to clarify, we said for two bottles of beer we were even for a £1,600 dead laptop. Err no. Basically the host (Sergio) lied to our faces throughout the holiday, saying one thing to us, another to the Apple shop, AirBnB and anybody else we had dealings with. Needless to say we are disgusted with the man.
Whilst we were in Palermo, waiting to see if the laptop could be repaired on the day. Sergio demanded that he take us on a walking tour of the streets and found hundreds of churches, if your idea of fun is visiting churches, then visit Palermo. Our idea of fun it is not, the highlight of Palermo for us were, the Arancini, balls of deep fried rice with fillings which had Veggie options!!!! and the Quattro Canti (which the restaurant was named after) the crossroads in the centre of the city named after the four Viceroys of the ancient citadel, it’s basically the corners of buildings at a junction with 3 statues in each corner, it was impressive but not worth going all the way there to see. Eventually after walking around for 5 hours straight in the 42c heat, feeling ill and exhausted, The host left us to get back on our own. We made our way back after getting confused and lost over the directions and bus schedules, we managed to just make the last bus.
We arrived back at the apartment, but not before stopping at the local Bar (which is an italian pattesiary/gelato shop) We picked up some amazing little pistachio cakes and a selection of other sweet treats. Bob is not usually one to go for sweet things but would make an exception for those pistachio things.
When we got back to the apartment that wasn’t the house we were promised, underneath hoards of screaming children and people playing shuffleboard with chairs and beds, with no vegetarian food, algae covered sea, faulty electrics, a half falling down flat, ants everywhere and a host that basically didn’t give a shit and lied to our faces all the time and we still had another week there. We spent two days with no kitchen and only one plug socket for the entire flat, so we could have the fridge on or anything else, no more.
The rest of the holiday was for the most part spent walking to and from Castellemare, the buses to the Nature reserve of Zingaro, only went from Castellemmare 10 minute before the bus departed Alamo Marina where we were (which we had to get to get to Castellemmare to catch said bus to Zingaro), then when we finally worked out a way to get there, some idiot set fire to the nature reserve and burnt half of it down and shutting the park entirely, so we never made it there or to San Capo the town at the of the northwestern tip of the island, the only place other than Palermo we managed to get to was the other time in the easterly direction Balistrate and that basically consisted of one main street with nothing save an ice cream parlour and a piazza with 4 restaurants in it – which didn’t open until 7pm and the last bus back to Alcamo Marina was at 6.30pm! Possibly the highlight of the holiday was to be found there, though, Bob made friends with a stray dog, a blonde female crossbreed, the local shop owner had fed and watered her for five years but assured us it wasn’t his and he was trying to get us to bring it home, which Bob would have done if it were easier.
But unfortunately we had to leave on the untimely bus and head back to Alcamo Marina and the noisy apartment.
We did have a couple of bars opposite the apartment, one attached to a quite exclusive hotel and we frequented them both on numerous occasions for cocktails, a couple of nights during our stay the La Battagia Hotel Bar had club nights which filled the end of the marina with the ‘Elegante Alla Moda’, the local teenagers and twenty somethings on their scooters and looking stylish, the open air club blasted music out through the night and made exceptionally strong drinks at sensible prices. One night there was a wedding in the bar and at 2am the DJ and guests started playing Rammstein and Queen and full blast, when the police drove into the Marina the music dropped, the police passed by and left and the music went back up, this happened four of five times, to us it was funny, to the hotel guests paying €150 a night it probably wasn’t.
We did eat in the hotel’s restaurant one night, it was well adorned and sophisticated, the prices were a bit higher than we had got used to at John’s and the other places around, but we sat, sipped the local red wine and Bob actually got a choice of two vegetarian dishes, rather than the standard one in all other restaurants. Ash had the Seafood pasta and Bob chose a Almond breadcrumbed tomato pasta. When the food arrived it looked well, it looked fairly small, typical Corden Bleu dishes. We ate and were shocked at the bill – we were charged €5 for not being a guest of the hotel and we later discovered many restaurants in Sicily charge you €5 for the cost of using their cutlery and plates, to clarify, you get charged to use their plates, so if you turn up with your own dishes and knives and fork you could save yourself €5 a time!
The last day of the holiday we spent on the beach, fighting large cresting white topped waves and drinking a cocktail, we said goodbye to the apartment we never wanted and left with a lift back to the airport by the host’s girlfriend, this it turns out was so that the host could go into the apartment and trash it, then report to AirBnB that we had destroyed his apartment, thus negating his requirement to pay us back for the false advertising, the lack of amenities, the deadly wiring and all the other complaints we had started to make to AirBnB.
To cap the holiday off we got our flight fine – Palermo airport is rubbish, the supposed restaurants and ‘Quik Stop’ bars as awful, most of which are before security, after there is just one café where the staff don’t want to be there and they really don’t want customers sitting at tables wanting service, of course the veggie options were basically ham and cheese, salami and egg or go away. The British Airways flight was fine except they serve Marks and Spencer’s food and Bob always ends up ill from M&S food and this time was no exception, starvation drove us to buying sandwiches and hoping this time it would be different – it wasn’t. Bob spent most of the flight throwing up in the bathroom, while some football yob smashed on the door telling her to get the fuck out of there, I need a piss and the cabin crew did nothing to stop him.
It is now over two weeks since we returned and the reason we have not posted a post until now is simply that we have been overwhelmed with the fallout of the holiday, trying to get compensated for the disaster and AirBnB are – it turns out – another of those companies that have abysmal customer service, truly who employs people who are that rude and have no sympathy and drag out any simple request for as long as possible.
So the perfect end to the perfect holiday (that’s sarcasm in case you didn’t realise!)
Overall we think Sicily is hot, the sea is a good temperature, but we wouldn’t return even if we had a car. Next year, Thailand, Hawaii, Japan, basically anywhere but not Sicily.