• Jenny

Living in Sicily: First Impressions

Updated: Mar 4, 2021


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Enjoying a cappuccino on Corso Italia in Catania

What is it like to live in Sicily? Having recently moved to this beautiful island situated at the big toe of Italy’s boot, my friends and family have been asking me this question. I've traveled to Italy a number of times previously, so I have experience with the culture and I can speak ‘un poco Italiano’. But there are things you learn when you live in a place that are different than what you experience as a traveler. So I thought I would share my first impressions, and a few lessons I’ve learned so far.


The most important thing I’ve learned is that life is slow here, and to me that is a beautiful thing. When you come here, it’s like you’ve pressed the pause button on the craziness of life. Sometimes when life is moving so fast, you don’t notice all the amazing things around you. But here, they know what is most important, and they take pride in it. Fresh food made with local products from open air markets. Drinking a cappuccino at a street side cafe, enjoying meals with friends, and taking a daily riposo. Food, wine, and friendship…the necessities of life. La dolce vita.


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Fresh produce heaven at this street market in Catania

Driving

Now, when I said everything moves more slowly here, that does not include driving. Driving here is as wild as you imagine it might be, with the crazy turned up juuuuuust a little bit more. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about driving in Sicily.


1. Speed

When driving in Sicily, there are two speeds. Fast. and Slow. The people here don’t really seem to care which category you fall into, just decide which one you are and commit to it. If you drive slow, stay as far to the right as you possibly can without hitting anything. This is so the fast people can pass you. Yes, people will pass you even when there is only one lane going in each direction! The middle of the road is used by people going in both directions for passing.

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On two lane roads the middle "lane" is used for passing!
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This car had to swerve back into the right lane to avoid getting smashed by the construction truck!

On highways and other roads with more than two lanes, ALWAYS drive in the right lane unless you are passing. This is a law! Think of the left lane like the Fast Pass line at Disney. You should only drive in it for the purpose of passing. If you’re brave enough to be one of the fast people, always pass on the left, but with caution. Especially if you are driving on a two lane road. You are taking your life in your hands; passing can sometimes be like a real life game of chicken.

2. Signs


Road signs in Italy will tell you everything you need to know. The problem is that there are SO many of them! They can be overwhelming if you don’t know how to read them. Different colors and shapes mean different things. Circles usually tell you about a regulation or limit, while triangles warn you of dangers or hazards.


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Speed Limits and No Passing Zones are always shown in red circles
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The top sign warns of a bumpy road ahead. An exclamation mark means to watch out for something, in this case trees along the quayside (riverbank)
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Watch out for heavy traffic ahead!
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Cows in the road?

Spoiler alert! Just because a sign is posted does NOT mean people are going to do what it says. For example, speed limits, no passing, stop and yield all seem to be optional. I always drive assuming people are not going to follow the rules, that way I'm pleasantly surprised when they do.

Another general rule is that red signs usually tell you what you CAN'T do, and blue signs tell you what you CAN do.


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The red circle with the white line means Do Not Enter, while the blue circle with the arrow shows you where you ARE allowed to enter. I love it when the two signs are in the same place...

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Huh?

The last thing I’ve learned about road signs is that when you are navigating, looking for an exit, or deciding which way to turn at a crossroads, there will not always be a street name, highway name, or even a highway number. Most often, there will be signs pointing in the direction of different towns or cities. So you have to know which towns to drive through in order to get to where you are going.


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Where am I going again?

I’m sure I’ll get used to this once I learn the area, but when you’re taking a road trip it can be a little confusing, especially if you have to drive through 5 different small towns to get where you are headed!


3. Parking


Speaking of using different colors to indicate what you can and can’t do, this goes for parking as well. When looking for a place to park, I’ve learned to look at the colors of the lines painted on the side of the street. White lines mean you can park there and it’s free. Yellow lines mean no parking, or restricted parking such as for people with disabilities. The picture below on the left has white lines where cars are parked, but notice there is no one parked where the yellow line is. Circular shaped street signs with blue and red lines will also tell you if there are limitations for stopping on either side of the street.