TRAVELLING IN SAFETY: MAFIA, CRIME AND RISKS IN MAJOR CITIES
Is Sicily really as unsafe as in the collective imagination? The cliché that for years branded Sicily as an unsafe tourist destination because of its high crime rate has now been dispelled and the region is certainly quieter than other countries: it is just as safe as the rest of Italy and, compared to large tourist cities, even safer. This is confirmed by recent Numbeo statistics (historical indices published periodically on crime in the main European cities): Palermo with an index of 45.23 is in 50th place, unfortunately Catania on the other hand is in 3rd place with an index of 63.90 in the first half of 2023.
More info: Numbeo
Catania, in Il Sole 24 Ore's 2022 Crime Index, ranks first in Sicily (26th nationwide), the most insecure on the island in terms of thefts (measured per 100,000 inhabitants), especially thefts from cars and motorbikes, thefts from parked cars and from shops.
Successful films and television dramas have contributed for years to portraying Sicily as a region with shady individuals, backward people and a mafia aura, amplifying and giving the collective the distorted image 'Sicily = Mafia'. Nowadays, one does not meet men dressed in double-breasted suits with coppola on their heads and lupara in their hands (as in the film 'The Godfather', criminals and mafiosi) or women with their heads covered and dressed in black. The reality is quite different!
Thanks to the work of two iconic figures such as Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino (and the 1986-1992 Maxiprocesso), we now know how the Mafia is organised, how it operates, its methods of affiliation and repression, its code of honour and its relations with power.
Undoubtedly illegality, corruption and the mafia (as a form of organised crime) exist today, but they have radically changed their appearance compared to the past: rigged public contracts, distribution of favours to friends, corruption in politics, racketeering and rigged elections. The activities of organised crime include drug trafficking, online betting, extortion in all its forms, fencing and laundering of precious metals.
"As for the Mafia, although it is still active, it is not the tourists it attacks".
More info: Sicilian_Mafia
To travel with ample security, the precautions to be taken are the same as for any other unfamiliar destination visited for the first time, applying the same rules of prudence as in any other large city or tourist site. In general, pay attention and always be vigilant with valuables and do not leave them unattended in crowded places and on public transport, especially in large cities, especially Palermo and Catania (in smaller towns the rate of petty crime is lower and theft or mugging is rare): do not keep cameras, mobile phones, wallets, flashy bags, flashy objects, watches, necklaces, etc. too much in sight and do not flaunt them. Avoid walking alone in uncrowded, isolated, poorly lit streets or in risky, run-down and peripheral neighbourhoods.
The characteristic historical markets of Palermo (Ballaro', Il Capo) and Catania (Fera 'o Luni and la Piscarìa) offer an insight into the customs and daily eating habits of the local Sicilians: until a few years ago considered dangerous and unsafe, they are now frequented by many tourists and the curious.
In the historical centres of Palermo and Catania (especially at weekends), the presence of the police to control the territory is guaranteed, making them quiet and enjoyable. Petty crime can happen, as it does everywhere, but with due caution unpleasant situations can be avoided and dangers are part of bad luck.
If you travel by car (especially in Catania) opt for guarded parking spaces. Since the main problems of insecurity for tourists in Catania are car theft, pickpocketing and robberies, it is not advisable to leave suitcases in the car, anything important that is visible from the outside, and not to open the boot after parking.
THE 'VUCCIRIA' (PALERMO) TODAY
For centuries, Palermo's historic 'Vucciria' market has been one of the city's busiest places, the beating heart of commercial activity, the crossroads of merchants and merchandise, a thriving business centre, rich in rare and valuable foreign goods: Amidst colourful stalls overflowing with articles of all kinds, sellers and buyers thronged: colours, sounds, lights and frenetic life created that magical and unmistakable atmosphere that inspired poets, writers, intellectuals and painters (one example is Guttuso's iconic painting 'La Vucciria di Palermo').
But what is it like today? If you expect to find it still like this, the reality is quite different. Today, the 'Vucciria' has lost almost all its distinctive characteristics, changing its face and transforming itself: it has become a place to eat 'street food' and local gastronomy at popular prices, and a place of nightlife (populated by patrons from all walks of life and tourists) where you can have 'cheap drinks' while listening to music until late at night. A kind of new suggestion, charm and fun especially for the young.
The negative aspects that remain are malpractice and delinquency (a sad reality in the neighbourhood): the lack of constant and real repressive action by the institutions encourages illegal customs and behaviour that then result in criminal acts.
REFUGEES: SICILY LAND OF TRANSIT
Are there really as many refugees in Sicily as the media might lead one to think? For years, Sicily has certainly been the scene of continuous landings of migrants from various countries, who, following various routes (due to the serious economic and political situations they find themselves in), land on the island. Although one might think so, Sicily turns out to be a 'land of transit', a country of first landing, for which from the reception centres there is subsequent relocation and redistribution among other Italian or EU countries. The task of the Sicilian authorities is reception, protection and integration.
The serious and painful problem of migratory flows does not concern tourists on holiday: refugees do not invade beaches or ask for money, they are not a demonstrable problem for crime.
In big cities (in the streets) and on busy beaches, one can meet migrants selling all kinds of articles: they are probably those who in the process of redistribution and integration, still do not have a proper chance and opportunity.
Recommended site: https://openmigration.org/en/
Does the word 'migrant' include 'refugees'?
The word 'migration' often implies a voluntary process, of those who, for reasons of great hardship, are forced to leave their country, cross a border and seek to move, temporarily or permanently, to another country in search of better economic opportunities, job opportunities, to try to improve their living conditions, or in other cases, for study, family reunion or other reasons. Sometimes people move to escape the dramatic consequences of natural disasters, famine or extreme poverty. People who leave their countries for these reasons are usually not considered refugees under international law.
Refugees do not have the possibility to return safely to their homes and are therefore entitled to specific protection measures according to existing norms of international law.
We must treat all human beings with respect and dignity. We must ensure that the human rights of migrants are respected, we must ensure public support, protection for refugees and the establishment of asylum.
In the context of the waves of immigration that have swept through Italy in increasing numbers over the past 30 years, the term migrant has tended to progressively replace the term immigrant in common usage. In common usage, co-opted by the media, migrant is identified only with the most desperate person, the one who faces the transfer journey on barges, whereas, in reality, most immigration occurs across land borders and only occasionally with tragic outcomes.
PALERMO - RECEPTION AND INTEGRATION
For the best reception and integration in the city of Palermo, we recall the importance of 'The Mission of Hope and Charity' founded in 1991 by Brother Biagio Conte (a lay missionary) as a demonstration of how the people of Palermo (and Sicilians in general) are always ready and willing to help.
The Mission focuses on welcoming and giving oneself to the new poor of the city, to those who remain behind and on the margins of society; tramps, vagrants, young drifters, alcoholics, ex-convicts, separated people, prostitutes, refugees, immigrants. In the Mission they are called brother and sister without any distinction.
Also in Palermo, 'Centro Astalli' has been a point of reference for migrants and refugees for 20 years.
In the city, refugees and migrants are not considered as such and are easily and well integrated, surprising for their ability to learn the Italian language quickly.
Recommended articles and websites:
MOVING AROUND SICILY BY CAR
The best way to travel around the island and visit all its wonders is by car, a solution that guarantees reaching even the most unexplored areas.
There are four main motorway arterial roads in Sicily (bi-directional) that connect the main centres (they have 3/2 lanes):
With motorway toll: A20 Catania (Catania ring road junction (RA15)) - Messina (Messina Sud barrier) - Palermo (Buonfornello barrier). At some toll stations there are cashiers who give change, while others are automated and only accept the exact amount. It is advisable to keep some change on hand.
Without tolls: A19 Catania-Palermo, A29 Palermo-Mazara del Vallo and A18 Catania-Val di Noto The A18 continues in the section between Syracuse, Ragusa and Gela; the A29 becomes the A29dir in the section between Alcamo and the province of Trapani. The more inland roads make it possible to move towards less accessible localities.
It is possible to find two-lane stretches, bottlenecks near viaducts, tunnels, unlit junctions, and interruptions for work in progress. Rule for safe travel: respect the limits and signs along the route and pay attention when driving.
Particular attention should be paid to state roads and fast slip roads:
-SS121 Palermo Agrigento: very busy with trucks and buses
-Palermo Sciacca expressway (leading into the Belice villages)
-Fast roads connecting Ragusa, Syracuse and Gela
The other Sicilian roads (national or provincial), are the gateway to breathtaking scenery: small landslides, potholes or minor instabilities could be a problem, as could the presence of trucks or tractors. The roads in Sicily are varied and challenging: they range from medieval alleys to mountain roads with treacherous curves. If an alley is wide enough for a car, Sicilians will drive down it!
Driving in Sicily can be quite challenging, difficult and frustrating due to heavy traffic, narrow and poorly maintained roads, crazy drivers, lack of parking, and bad road signs.
MAINTENANCE, SIGNPOSTING AND ROAD ADDRESSES
Road potholes are a real danger in Sicily: there are potholes almost everywhere and most roads are in very poor condition. Municipalities refuse to keep up with the roads and as a result, both horizontal and vertical road signs are poor and sometimes very bad (road signs are not easy to read or intuitive), pedestrian crossings are faded or discoloured, and roads are damaged.
Outside large cities, it can happen that buildings, flats, houses and villas (for tourist use or otherwise) are located in places (e.g. contrade/fractions/countryside, etc.) with a lack of toponymy so that a precise and defined cadastral address (street name and house number) is physically missing: do not be surprised because it happens frequently in Sicily. It is useful to have geographical coordinates for the location or a pre-established meeting point to be able to easily reach one's destination.
GOOGLE? BEWARE, IT IS NOT ALWAYS UP-TO-DATE
What is the best and easiest way to reach a destination? Google! But Google is not always up-to-date (especially in foreign languages) on the latest works in progress on highways/roads, especially in Sicily, where in big cities new pedestrian areas, road works and road system changes are constantly being opened. So sometimes it is better to ask Sicilian locals for information, who will be happy to help you.
HOW DO SICILIANS DRIVE?
Sicilians are perhaps the worst drivers in Europe and have little respect for the most basic driving rules on the roads. In large cities, drivers park on pavements and double-park, cross pedestrian crossings when the traffic lights are red, do not know how to use direction indicators, and speed on pedestrian crossings. The same applies to mopeds running through traffic without rules: they overtake on both sides at speed, crossing in front of you and sometimes even touching your rear-view mirrors, they come from all directions, they squeeze themselves everywhere and into every small free space on the road, they drive between your car and the pavement. Tip: take an extra look at your side mirrors before changing direction!
Few respect the maximum permitted speed, make dangerous manoeuvres, drive in 2 lanes at a time, drive wherever their car fits (there is no such thing as 'my lane' or 'your lane', every lane is everyone's lane. Lanes are imaginary), talk on their mobile phones while driving, honk their horns, flash their lights on the motorway when coming into the fast lane at high speed (160 km/h and more where the limit is 130 km/h), do not respect safety distances especially on the left lane of motorways (they are 'on your tail' at 10 cm to make you move), have a sometimes aggressive and impatient driving style.
Do not underestimate the traffic in the big cities of Palermo and Catania. The flow is much slower than you expect: the countless cars, scooters, traffic lights, double-parked cars and buses slow down the pace. If you have accommodation somewhere outside the city, do not simply rely on google maps times but consider extra time for traffic.
Large cities are characterised by heavy and chaotic traffic volumes, especially at peak times, and difficulties in finding public parking.
When parking in large cities, consider the following information.
BLUE LINES: paid public parking. You need to buy a ticket at a tobacco shop or bar.
WHITE LINES: free parking
BLUE LINES: watch out for no-parking signs
WITHOUT LINES AND WITHOUT SIGNS: unofficial free parking. It means that parking is possible.
PRIVATE PARKING or GARAGE: convenient especially if you have luggage or valuables in your car,
ILLEGAL PARKERS: you will come across illegal parkers known as 'valet parkers': these are people who, in exchange for a few coins, are 'supposed' to watch over your car. Normally they do not cause any problems, but in some cases or areas they can be a bit threatening if you refuse to make them an offer.
ZTL (LIMITED TRAFFIC ZONES)
In the large cities of Palermo and Catania, the ZTLs (restricted traffic zones) are in force in the historic city centres: these are areas of the city centre where the circulation of motor vehicles is subject to restrictions and is protected by electronic gates with cameras; residents and authorised persons can access them.
In Palermo, daily access passes can be purchased online, at authorised retailers or via the PalerMobility App
In Palermo daily access passes can also be validated afterwards as follows
- from Monday to Thursday by midnight of the day on which the transit was made;
- from Friday to Sunday by 6.00 a.m. of the day for which transit was carried out;
The validity of day passes requested for Friday and Saturday is extended until 06.00 hours of the following day.
Passes for the Sunday night ZTL must be activated after 06.00 hours on Saturday.
The daily pass in Palermo costs €5.00 for petrol and diesel cars, and is blue in colour; it costs €2.50 for hybrid, methane and LPG cars, and is green in colour.
More information for Palermo:
More information for Catania:
If you rent a car, it is prudent to choose comprehensive insurance that covers all damages in case of an accident. Most drivers break the rules, so there are many minor collisions that occur on a daily basis and you will see many dented cars. You will also come across cases of drivers using their cars without being covered by insurance: it is not like in the rest of Europe where, if you are not insured, immediately your vehicle is confiscated.
A very important thing to take into account when planning a trip to Sicily is refuelling (petrol stations): it is important to know that, especially in inland areas, you can find long stretches of road without petrol stations, so it is better never to find yourself with your car in reserve.
GETTING AROUND BY TRAIN OR BUS
Travelling by train can be a convenient choice as well as the exact opposite: the main cities (Messina, Catania and Palermo) are well connected and travel is well developed thanks to fast trains, while for other routes the connections are more difficult, limited and require long timetables and number of changes.
An alternative choice to the train is bus transport from the three main cities to various directions and destinations on the island, which is more convenient and faster than the train. At the city terminals (usually outside the central train stations), the major companies Sais, Ast and Interbus offer this service.
Driving in Sicily? yes, you must! Tips and Techniques - Streaty
Driving in Sicily: The Thrills and Challenges of Visiting Sicily by Car (travelnotesandbeyond.com)
THE RUBBISH PROBLEM
Unfortunately, Sicily is characterised by the serious problem of rubbish in the environment. The majority of Sicilians blame the inefficiency of refuse services and institutions as the main reason. The problem is not the services, whether they work or not, but perhaps lies more in people's habits: it seems that a part of the Sicilian population does not understand the basic rules of living in a social world. The cleanliness of cities (and not only) has always been the subject of debate and accusations against the uncivilised who litter and the institutions that do not keep clean. The critical issue seems not to be easily resolved, so we often come across rubbish on the streets, in the countryside and even on the beaches, micro-dumps and piles of rubbish almost everywhere, even in places of great value, dirty and smelly streets; in addition, collection bins are lacking and often full. Even differentiated waste collection seems to date to be inadequate, well organised and inefficient in much of Sicily.
In Sicily, the public door-to-door waste collection service (both differentiated and non-differentiated), is not guaranteed in every town and every town has its own rules (which are not regionally uniform).
We advise you, upon arrival at the villa, to have the check-in manager explain very carefully the procedures for waste disposal (separation) and collection in the relevant town (weekly calendar) and to follow the rules that are provided to avoid any unpleasantness, undertaking to remove any waste as indicated, in the appropriate place and on the appropriate days as indicated.
LGBTQ+ TOURISM AND SICILY
Sicily is among the most popular holiday destinations for Lgbtq+ tourists. Not only sea and culture, but also a varied range of gay or gay-friendly venues (including bars, discos, saunas, cruising, beaches, parties and movida) and cultural events of various kinds as well as services dedicated to the community, available throughout the year.
Recommended site: https://tourismi.it/turismo-lgbt-guida-locali-gay-sicilia-catania-palermo-messina/
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY WHAT TO DO: ASSISTANCE AND HEALTHCARE
Foreign citizens who are temporarily present for a period not exceeding 90 days (e.g. tourists), can make use of urgent and elective healthcare services upon payment of the relevant regional rates.
In case of need, you can contact the local tourist medical services (the lists of which can be easily found by going to the tourist and/or institutional websites of the municipalities) and the first aid stations.
Some of the main services you may need to reach in case of need are
Police - 112 or 113
Ambulance - 118
Fire - 115
Operators will probably not speak English or any other foreign language (if they do, get help translating on your behalf).
European citizens have health care guaranteed by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which gives them the right to receive all necessary treatment, including non-emergency care.
Anyone who is not a European citizen in Italy is temporarily entitled to hospital care in case of the need for urgent or essential treatment.
Emergency rooms and hospitals are generally very crowded places at all hours, with overburdened emergency personnel. If you need a doctor for smaller matters, it is quicker in terms of time to look for a private clinic or doctor.
BEWARE OF TOURIST 'TRAPS'
There are several ways in which someone can try to 'cheat' tourists, so beware of some of them:
- Taxi drivers: overpriced, rude, always trying to take advantage of foreigners
- Street vendors: if you are not aware of the prices, they may try to charge you double or even triple for the products and/or dishes they make.
- Tourist restaurants: they tend to overcharge for mediocre and often non-regional dishes.
- Street markets (among the most popular attractions for tourists visiting cities): if you don't know exactly where to go or what to buy, you might spend up to 10 times more than you normally would.
- Horse-drawn carriages: these are generally found in the city centres and the prices are dainty.
- Kiosks on the beaches: along the sea there are many kiosks and lidos serving food and drinks: always ask for the menu to make sure that the prices are the actual prices of the establishment otherwise the managers/staff can get very loose with the prices.
- Unofficial tour guides: beware of 'improvised' guides who often provide 'tours' at prices that are not always advantageous and without the necessary skills and authorisations.
When travelling, it is almost impossible to avoid so-called 'tourist traps'. In this regard, the 'Quora' (questions and answers) platform proposes as one of the most debated trend topics precisely that of listing deceptive or overpriced places and experiences to 'escape' from.
What are the worst tourist traps in the world? - Quora
THE BEST BEACHES IN SICILY
In addition to the Blue Flags (awarded by the FEE Foundation for Environmental Education), Sicily and its Minor Islands also win “Vele”(awarded by Legambiente and Touring). Unlike the Blue Flags, the Sails concern not individual beaches but entire beach areas, with the idea of orienting a holiday that starts from the dives but also goes inland and to nearby towns. When awarding the Vele, Legambiente and Touring consider not only the certified water quality, but also other parameters relating to the characteristics and protection of the environment.
Vele 2022 - Bathing Areas
5 Vele: Pantelleria Island (TP); Salina Island (ME)
4 Vele: San Vito lo Capo, Custonaci and Erice (TP); Noto and Portopalo di Capo Passero (SR)
3 Vele: Menfi, Realmonte, Sciacca and Siculiana (AG); Mazara del Vallo, Campobello di Mazara del Vallo, Marsala and Selinunte (TP); Pelagie Islands (Lampedusa and Linosa - AG); Egadi Islands (TP); Ustica Island (PA); Lipari (ME)
2 Vele: Cefalù, Pollina, Castellammare del Golfo and Balestrate (PA); Capo d'Orlando (ME)
1 Vela: Ragusa, Modica, Scicli, Pozzallo (RG); Taormina and Acireale (CT and ME)
Recommended site: https://guidablu.legambiente.it/2022
Blue Flag Beaches 2023
In the province of AGRIGENTO: Menfi - Porto Palo Cipollazzo, Lido Fiori Bertolino
In the province of Ragusa: Modica - Maganuco, Marina di Modica; Ispica - Santa Maria del Focallo; Pozzallo - Pietre Nere, Raganzino; Ragusa - Marina di Ragusa
In the province of MESSINA: Alì Terme - Lungomare di Alì Terme; Roccalumera - Roccalumera; Furci Siculo - Litorale; Santa Teresa di Riva - Lungomare di Santa Teresa di Riva; Lipari - Stromboli Ficogrande, Vulcano Gelso, Vulcano Acque Termali, Acquacalda, Canneto; Tusa - Lungomare Beach
The FEE list also includes 82 Italian tourist landings, including, in Sicily, Capo d'Orlando.
Green Flag Beaches 2023 (suitable for families and children):
Balestrate (PA); Campobello di Mazara - Tre Fontane - Torretta Granitola (TP); Catania - Playa (CT); Cefalù (PA); Giardini Naxos (ME); Ispica-Santa Maria del Focallo (RG); Lipari - Marina di Lipari-Acquacalda-Canneto (ME); Marsala - Signorino (TP); Mazara del Vallo - Tonnarella (TP); Menfi - Porto Palo di Menfi (AG); Noto - Vendicari (SR); Palermo-Mondello (PA); Pozzallo - Pietre Nere - Raganzino (RG); Ragusa-Marina di Ragusa (RG); Santa Croce Camerina - Casuzze - Punta secca - Caucana (RG); San Vito Lo Capo (TP); Scicli - Sampieri (RG); Vittoria - Scoglitti (RG).
PA=PALERMO; ME=MESSINA; CT=CATANIA; AG=AGRIGENTO; TP=TRAPANI; SR=SIRACUSA; RG=RAGUSA
To obtain Green Flag status, beaches must possess all the requirements deemed essential by paediatricians: sand, space between beach umbrellas for playing, crystal-clear water that does not immediately become high so that the little ones can safely go beyond the shoreline, the presence of lifeguards, dedicated equipment for children, and entertainment opportunities for parents (such as shops, restaurants, bars and sports facilities).
SAFETY ON THE BEACH AND AT THE SEASIDE
Safety on the beach and at the sea is just as important as in the city.
The 'lifeguard' (lifeguard assistant, beach attendant or often simply lifeguard) is the figure who watches over the safety (at sea) of those who frequent bathing establishments, swimming pools by the sea or lake.
When is a lifeguard compulsory?
A 'lifeguard' service is compulsory and a duty in bathing establishments. The owners of bathing establishments are obliged to ensure the presence of a lifeguard on the days and at the times they are open to the public and thus provide 'lifeguard services', also known as 'lifeguard service' or 'lifeguard service'.
Is there a lifeguard obligation on public beaches?
For all free beaches, i.e. all beaches that are not subject to a bathing concession (where the beach does not have an establishment and has not been concessioned to any private individual), there is no obligation to have a lifeguard.
Gibt es eine Rettungsschwimmerpflicht an öffentlichen Stränden?
Für alle freien Strände, d. h. alle Strände, die keiner Badekonzession unterliegen (d. h. Strände, an denen es keine Einrichtungen gibt und die nicht an Privatpersonen vergeben wurden), besteht keine Verpflichtung, einen Rettungsschwimmer einzusetzen.
BATHING: WATCH OUT FOR 'UNDERTOW CURRENTS'
The undertow current, also known as backwash current, is a very dangerous sea current.
It is an intense flow of water caused by the wave motion of the sea, which forms in front of the beach. This accumulation of water along the shoreline causes a real increase in pressure, which has to be compensated for by a backwash current, which travels from the shore towards the open sea at high speed, dragging everything it encounters with it.
These currents mainly originate on sandy sea shores, especially when they are bordered by underwater rocks, which can form gullies on the seabed that make it even more dangerous. In fact, one can be sucked in and swept out to sea suddenly by a current at a high speed of up to 9 km/h, which makes it difficult for even the most experienced swimmers to return to shore.
How can one recognise the undertow current and thus avoid it?
By looking at the surface of the water, one can see the existence of a current directed towards the open sea: in those places, the surface of the water is unusually smooth and undulating, and the waves are also as if broken precisely because of the strong back current. One can also recognise their presence by looking at the outline of the beach, which tends to take the form of larger or smaller inlets depending on the strength of the swell.
But what to do should one end up in such a current?
The most correct method is to swim parallel to the coast without wasting energy trying to reach the shore immediately. Fighting such a strong current is in fact extremely time-consuming and tiring and it is much better to get out sideways as soon as possible.