A wonderfully thorough resource for everything related to travel in Sicily (as well as much of the research for this part of our Quest website) is the online magazine Best of Sicily

Taking Care of the Planet
Our Esoteric Quests take us to many wonderful places around the world. We here at the Open Center are committed to caring for the planet. As always, our brochure is printed on recycled paper and this year we will be neutralizing the effect our staff air travel has on climate change. We invite you to join us in this commitment by visiting www.sustainabletravelinternational.orgso you can find out how many greenhouse gases are generated by your journey and then purchase Green Tags which make your travel 100% climate neutral.

Travel Agents & Online Bookings
All conference participants are responsible for booking their own air travel. For online bookings of discounted air tickets, useful websites include www.kayak.com, www.orbitz.com, and www.cheaptickets.com. Please note that there often are well-priced tickets between the London and Catania (http://www.skyscanner.net, for example); when combined with an affordable cross-Atlantic flight, this can be an economical option.

Telephones
The country code for Italy is 39. The city code for Catania is 95; for Siracusa, it is 931.

One affordable means of making international calls when in Italy is through the use of Skype (www.skype.com), which is either free when calling computer to computer, or available for a few U.S. cents-per-minute charge when dialing from computer to land line, or the reverse (SkypeIn or SkypeOut).

Calling Cards, Mobile Phones and Smart Phones, oh my…
Prepaid or billed telephone calling cards (AT&T, MCI or BT, for example), as well as phone booths, are increasingly being replaced by cell phones in Italy. Nonetheless, if you do opt to use such a card, you can purchase a prepaid domestic telephone card (carta telefonica) for less than €10.00 from a tobacco shop or newsagent. You’ll still have to make a toll free or local call to make a connection to your service’s access number for Italy. Italian residential and hotel telephone rates are based on those of Telecom Italia, and are among Europe’s highest. Internet Cafés sometimes offer long-distance phone service.

And as for mobile phones, here are two links to basic information regarding cell use for Americans and Canadians in Europe, in general, and in Italy in particular:
http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/cell-phone-europe.htm
http://www.slowtrav.com/europe/cell_phones.htm.

Both explain options for buying or renting GSM cell phones (necessary for Europe), for adapting your U.S. or Canadian GSM phone (a more expensive per-call option), and for purchasing a pre-paid Italian SIM card.

Some other resources for GSM cell rentals and Italian SIM cards:
http://www.onesimcard.com/cell-phone-rates/italy/
http://www.cellularabroad.com/italySIMcard.php

In Italy, your mobile carrier will use the services of TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile), Vodafone or Wind, all of which have service centers in major cities. Italy’s mobile networks and service are among the world’s most efficient and, all things considered, most economical. You may even find it practical to purchase a cell phone account (using pre-paid cards) in Italy for your use while traveling, especially as the dimensions and format of European SIM cards are different from those used in some regions of Italy.

Your smart phone or PDA should automatically connect to a local 3G or EDGE network easily enough. TIM has more coverage outside cities than Vodafone (which partners with AT&T). Bear in mind that your carrier’s "roaming" charges for such service outside your home country may be substantial, and that your phone’s internet and network settings can make a difference (changing certain settings can actually save you money).

Internet
Better Sicilian hotels may provide internet access to their guests (either via computer terminals, rooms with modem access for a laptop, or WiFi).

While there isn’t a lot of free WiFi access in public areas in Sicily, options do exist, especially in larger cities such as Catania and Palermo. There are some free WiFi spots in Ortigia as well for use with your own laptop. Internet points/cafes are to be found, if you are not traveling with a device of your own. They often are quite humble places, however; a solitary computer and modem in a photocopy or computer service shop on a side street. Rates vary, hours are not necessarily extensive, but service is available.

Electricity
Italy operates on 220 volts, 50 Hz. Laptops, digital cameras and some cell phones (appliances with their own power adaptors) can be plugged into either 110-120-volt or 220-240-volt sockets/points and will adapt to the voltage automatically (however, it’s always best to check the owner’s manual to confirm this). These, however, will require a plug adapter that can fit into Italian outlets

Information on your power adapter will indicate its voltage. If it reads "INPUT: A.C. 100-240V", then it can operate on either 110-120 or 220-240 voltage. If instead you find something like "INPUT: 100-125V", then it can’t run on Italy’s 220-240 volts and you’ll need to bring a transformer (also called a poweror voltage converter), as well as that plug adapter.

While there are two different types of sockets in use in Italy (“F” and “L” type), both should be able to accept the two round-prong “C” type Europlug adaptors. For more information on Italian plugs and sockets:
http://users.telenet.be/worldstandards/electricity.htm#voltage_table
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/travelblogs/654/19730/Power+in+Italy?destId=359975
http://goitaly.about.com/od/travelpackingtips/l/bl_electricity_italy.htm

It is recommended that you purchase American-to-European plug adaptors before arriving in Italy, as they are quite difficult to find in Europe (you also may try the duty free shops before leaving home). Here is one other option:
http://www.adaptelec.com/index.php?main_page=document_general_info&products_id=304

Identification & Visas
A valid passport (with at least 6 months remaining before its expiration) is required to enter Italy. No visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days for nationals of most English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United States) and Japan in possession of valid passports. And citizens of European Union nations have no particular entry requirements. You may contact your nearest Italian consulate or this website (http://www.esteri.it/visti/home_eng.asp) to confirm visa requirements applicable to your citizenship and place of residence.

Immunizations & Health
No vaccinations are required to visit Italy; however, you may want to check with your health care provider’s recommendations for you.

To minimize the risk of gastrointestinal ailments as the body adapts to a new environment, it is wise to remain hydrated by drinking plentyof water, to eat and drink (coffee, tea, alcohol) in moderation only, and to wash hands often with soap and water. It also may be helpful to travel with lactobacillus acidophilus capsules, which enhance beneficial intestinal flora and can be a preventative measure against digestive upsets.

One important note: remember to bring any necessary prescriptions or over-the-counter medications in their original containers, and in your carry-on bag!

Safety
Italy’s largest cities are quite safe as far as violent street crime is concerned; however, it is always wise to exercise prudence, especially in the narrow, winding streets of large cities. Women in particular are advised against carrying large purses, as purse snatchings are commonplace (creative thieves use motor scooters to ride by as they snatch handbags from behind). Organized crime doesn’t pose a threat to visitors.

The local number to dial in Italy in the event of any emergency is 112

Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is strongly recommended in the event of unexpectedly having to cancel or change your travel plans either before or during our conference, losing your luggage, needing medical assistance, or if the program is affected by circumstances beyond our control. You can purchase this from your own travel agent, or from online options such as www.travelinsured.com, www.accessamerica.com, and www.travelguard.com. Policies vary, depending upon the degree of coverage desired, and include options such as “Airline Ticket Protector” plans. One resource for understanding the range of options available, and for comparing quotes, is www.travelinsurancereview.net.

It’s also wise to verify your chosen airline’s refund policy, as they too vary, and at times offer ticket reimbursements where travel insurance may not.

Money
The official currency in Italy is the euro (€), which is divided into 100 cents (centesimi). One thing to keep in mind: it’s always helpful to carry small euro notes, as many supermarkets and shops often cannot change a large bank note (and often times would choose to lose a sale before they’ll try to break a larger bill).

ATMs (Bancomats) provide the easiest access to cash, and tend to offer the best exchange rates, although there is a daily withdrawal limit (usually around $500 US, but check with your home bank first). You will need a bank card with a four-digit PIN number (check with your bank to confirm that your ATM or debit card is equipped for international transactions). Please remember to advise your bank that you will be making purchases abroad, since many banks will err on the side of caution and assume your ATM or debit card has been stolen and might suspend your card temporarily.

It is important to note that Italian ATM keypads usually do not have alphabetical keys (ABC for 2, DEF for 3, etc). If you know your PIN in its alphabetical form only, be sure to translate this password into its numerical equivalent (in emergencies, the keypad of a pay phone or cell phone will function as a guide).

However, while ATM access is fairly widespread, it is strongly suggested that you have at least some euros in cash on hand before your arrival in the country (enough to last 48 hours), for any emergencies, empty airport ATMs, or unexpected computer network failures.

Traveler’s cheques may be exchanged for cash at banks and foreign exchange offices, but rarely at hotels and shops. Currency can be exchanged at banks and post offices as well.

Banking hours are usually Monday – Friday, from 8:30am-1:30pm and from 3-4pm. Post offices are open Monday – Friday from 8am-5pm, and on Saturday mornings.

Food & Drink
While primarily Italian in nature, Sicilian cuisine shows the influences of each successive culture that occupied the island over two thousand years. Lemons and blood oranges, pine nuts and almonds, saffron, raisins, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon reflect the Arabic thread within Sicilian cooking; the ample use of olive oil, beans and pistachios comes through the Greek presence; and the Spanish brought from the Americas the tomatoes, corn and cocoa that became an integral part of the cuisine as well.

Freshly baked bread from Sicily’s vast wheat fields, coupled with caponata, a relish of eggplants, olives, capers and celery, is a common appetizer. Sfincione is a local form of pizza made with tomatoes, onions and (sometimes) anchovies. Panelle (chick pea or ceci fritters first introduced during the Middle Ages), crocché (fried potato dumplings made with cheese, parsley and eggs), and arancine (fried rice balls stuffed with meat or cheese) are popularly sold at street side stands and markets. The Mediterranean offers up tuna, swordfish, and sardines: think pasta con le sarde, or pasta with fresh sardines, wild fennel, pine nuts, raisins and, sometimes, breadcrumbs, or pennette all’isolana, penne pasta with tuna, tomatoes, capers, mint and olives (more of the Arabic influence).

Dolci, or sweets, are an art of their own, taking the form of cannoli (crispy pastry tubes filled with sweetened ricotta cheese, vanilla, lemon zest and, at times, candied fruit peel or chocolate chips), Cassata Siciliana (from Palermo, a sponge cake soaked in fruit juice or liqueur, layered with sweetened ricotta, and covered with a shell of marzipan, pink and green icing, and candied fruits depicting the cherries and slices of citrus characteristic of Sicily), Frutta di Matorana or pasta reale (marzipan elaborately colored and shaped to resemble real fruits) and, of course, gelato, possibly invented during Roman times, with flavors such as pistacchio, nocciola (hazelnut), and gelsomino (jasmine).

And, finally, there are Sicilian wines and spirits, cultivated since the ancient days of Magna Grecia, which include marsala (an integral component of zabaglione, or Sicilian egg nog), Nero d’Avola (one of Sicily’s most popular and hearty red table wines), and grappa (a brandy distilled from grape seeds and pomace).

Tipping
While not commonly practiced in Italy, and while automatically added to restaurant checks, tipping in recognition of good service is nonetheless appreciated. You may round up the bill a few euros, or leave 10% for exceptional service. It’s customary to leave a tip of 10 to 20€ for the concierge in a hotel if they have made your stay a pleasant one, while chambermaids and porters often receive a tip of 1 or 2€.

Tipping cab drivers is unusual, but a tip of 5-10% is especially appreciated if they provide assistance with luggage, or useful information about getting around in town.

Taxis
Sicilian taxi drivers will stop for you only at designated taxi stands, found at the airports, train stations, main squares or large hotels. There are fixed, standardized (legal) rates for both day and night fares to and from the Catania and Palermo airports (fares increase after 8pm); nonetheless, it is always best to clarify the price for your route before getting into a taxi.

Customs
It’s probable that the most pronounced difference you’ll encounter will be the Sicilians’ unorthodox sense of time and priorities. The pace of life is slow (much of that life closes down between 1 and 4pm, during which you’ll find the passeggiata, or late afternoon stroll taking place in many cities), and schedules do not have the same level of importance as they do elsewhere. Neither do orderly lines.

Dress
We’ll be doing lots of walking in Sicily, so some sturdy, comfortable, shoes are essential, yet you’ll note that Italians tend not to wear sneakers outside of the gym. Italian men rarely wear short pants, and for women, shorts and sleeveless blouses are not appropriate when entering a church (a scarf or shawl around the waist or shoulders is useful in this regard). It also remains quite cool atop Mt. Etna, even during the summer months, when a light jacket will be most welcome.

Climate
June in Sicily brings warm temperatures, with average highs around 77 degrees Fahrenheit and lows around 68 (25 and 20 degrees Celsius, respectively), with occasional rainfall possible. You can expect cooler temperatures atop Mt. Etna; Catania, being in its shadow, sees more precipitation in general than other areas, and also some volcanic ash. Palermo, on the other hand, remains one of the sunnier, drier, parts of the island.

Time
Italy is in the Central European Time Zone, and therefore is one hour ahead of GMT, and 6 hours ahead of New York’s EST. The country observes Daylight Savings Time in summer, when it becomes 2 hours ahead of GMT (but remains 6 hours ahead of New York).

Language
Italian is the official language of Sicily, although the local dialect spoken there (which actually is a distinct language) bears traces of the tongues of the many different people who have ruled the island. Few people in either large cities, or in more remote towns, speak English, although you will find enough folks working at airports, hotels and restaurants in tourist areas who do. Nonetheless, every visitor should learn some basic Italian phrases out of common respect. Even the most humble attempts at speaking Italian will enrich your travels and deepen your experience of Sicily and its people.

Useful Phrases

Greetings

ENGLISH

ITALIAN

PRONUNCIATION

Informal hello / so long

Ciao

Chow

Good-bye (informal / formal)

Arrivederci / ArrivederLa

Ah-ree-veh-DAIR-chee / ah-ree-veh-DAIR-lah

Good day / Hello

Buongiorno

Bwohn JOHR-noh

Good evening

Buona sera

BWOH-nah SEH-rah

Good night

Buona notte

BWOH-nah NOHT-teh

How are you? (informal / formal)

Come stai? / Come sta?

COH-meh STAH-ee / stah

I’m fine

Sto bene

Stoh BEH-neh

Yes

Si

See

No

No

No

Maybe

Forse

FOHR-she

Thank you

Grazie

GRAHT-see-yah

You’re welcome / May I help you? / Go right ahead

Prego

PREY-goh

Please

Per favore / per piacere

Pehr fah-VOH-reh / pehr pyah-CHEH-reh

I’m sorry

Mi dispiace

Mee dees-PYAH-cheh

Excuse me (to get attention)

Scusi

SKOO-zee

I don’t understand.

Non capisco

Nohn kah-PEES-koh

Do you speak English?

Parla Inglese?

PAR-lah een-GLAY-zeh

My name is…

Mi chiamo…

Mee key-YAH-moh

This / that

Questo / quello

KWEH-sto / KWEHL-loh

Money

ENGLISH

ITALIAN

PRONUNCIATION

How much does this cost?

Quanto costa?

KWAN-toh CO-stah

Change

il resto

Eel REH-stoh

Emergencies

ENGLISH

ITALIAN

PRONUNCIATION

Help!

Aiuto!

Ah-YOO-toh

Stop!

Ferma!

FAIR-mah

Don’t touch me!

Non mi toccare!

NOHN mee tohk-KAH-reh

I lost my passport

Ho perso il passaporto.

Oh PEHR-so eel pahs-sah-POHR-toh

Pronunciation:
In many Italian words, stress falls on the next-to-last syllable. When stress falls on the last syllable, an accent indicates this. An “h’ is always silent; an “r” is always rolled.

“C” and “G” have a hard sound when preceding a, o or u (as in colore and gatto); they soften into “ch” and “j” when before e or i (as in ciao and gelato).

“CH” and “GH” return to their hard sounds in front of e or i (as in chianti or spaghetti).

“GN” is pronounced like the ni in “onion”; “GLI” is like the lli in “million”.

“SC” is pronounced as sk when preceding an a, o, or u; when followed by an i or o, it is pronounced as sh. “SC” returns to its hard sound of sk when an “H” is added (“SCH”), and when followed by an e or i (for example, pesche is PEHS-keh, and pesce is PEH-sheh).