For Visitors with Special Physical & Dietary Needs
In the past, travel
for those with physical challenges was a challenge in itself. In some ways, it still is. If you plan on traveling
in Sicily but your health or physical
mobility (or that of somebody you're traveling with) requires special
attention, it is worth planning for some of the circumstances that you may encounter during your
trip or even during a day of sightseeing.
Let's also consider dietary restrictions.
• Public Wheelchair Access
When we discuss
access for persons challenged by physical disabilities, we usually refer to those who require wheelchairs
or crutches to get around. (There are, of course, persons with other medical needs.) Except for airports and certain public buildings, access for
wheelchairs is not widely implemented
in Italy. Newly remodeled restaurants and hotels offer such accommodations
(ramps, wider doors, etc.) because they're legally required to do so, but
these measures have not been introduced everywhere. In most of the larger
hotels, access for those visitors with physical challenges can generally be presumed. Restaurants
usually offer the advantage of being at ground level. Some buses, and newer trains, have ramps
for wheelchair access, but that is the exception rather than the rule.
• Limited Access
Let's consider situations you may
encounter where access may be more difficult. In many older buildings, elevators (lifts) certainly exist,
but many are too small to accommodate a wheelchair, and
you may have to brave a short stairway even to reach the elevator. However,
many such buildings have doormen (portieri) willing to assist you. The fact
that Italians are generally willing to offer assistance in such circumstances
helps to alleviate certain problems to a considerable extent.
• An Island of Mountains
Palermo, Catania and Siracusa are generally flat, but
many localities are literally built on mountains. Even the main streets in such places may be hilly (not too different
from those in some districts of San Francisco), and some narrow side streets may actually be glorified
flights of stairs. Another potential problem is that some narrow, winding medieval streets are virtually
inaccessible by car. In certain cities traffic is so chaotic that moving around by car is virtually impossible
in the center of town, where you want to see the sights. Some hilltop towns, like Taormina, Monreale and Erice
don't present too many difficulties once you've actually arrived (the main streets within these towns are
fairly level despite the large number of ramps and steps in smaller streets adjoining them), though their
stone streets are usually rougher than paved
ones. Consider that the large abbey complex at Monreale has more open - and more level - architecture
than the monastery of Saint John of the Hermits (in Palermo),
a multilevel complex full of narrow portals and winding steps. A few of the "entry" areas at the ancient sites (Segesta,
Siracusa, Agrigento) are reasonably accessible if you must
rely on a wheelchair, but many medieval churches are not. (We were made aware of
this when we visited Cefalù Cathedral with a lady who didn't require
a wheelchair but did have difficulty climbing stairs.) In some cases,
churches have side entrances that obviate the need for ascending a main
entrance's steps. In general, it's best to be prepared to expect certain challenges
during your trip, and to avoid use of a wheelchair whenever possible.
• Special Medical Needs
• Dietary Restrictions and Medical Conditions
If you have special medical needs, such as the requirement for special
medication or treatment, it's better to make provision for this before you
arrive. Filling a prescription in Italy would be a difficult and time-consuming
experience best avoided. Another point to consider is that Sicilian summers are very hot and
often extremely humid. If this is a health issue,
you may wish to consider visiting during months other than June, July, August and September.
Meeting the needs of a special
diet for health reasons (if you're sodium-restricted, or diabetic, for example)
usually is not too difficult in Italy. Sicilian cuisine
offers enough choice to accommodate most requirements, and (within reason) most restaurants can prepare traditional dishes to suit you.
However, there's no substitute for sound nutritional knowledge (rather than vague dietary guidelines)
when you have to confront unfamiliar foods made with various (and possibly "hidden") ingredients. Gluten-free pasta and pizza are offered
in a few restaurants, but this is highly exceptional. Those with allergies to fava beans and peas (favism) should be careful, and
the same applies to those who are allergic to nuts (as many Sicilian pastries and ice creams contain almonds, pistachios,
pine nuts or hazelnuts). Where a dish contains shellfish (shrimp) or other seafood, this is usually fairly obvious; note
that pasta alla norma contains sword fish, to which some people are allergic.
• Vegetarians and Vegans
You may find restaurant menus challenging. In Sicily, vegetarian - and
especially vegan - diets can be difficult to follow because many of the "alternatives" to animal sources of protein (such as soy
products) are available only in specialty stores, which in Italy overcharge for almost every item. While organic farming
exists, organic ("natural") restaurants are few in number.
• Kosher and Halal
It's amazing how much pork
(especially ham) finds its way into Sicilian dishes. More generally, though some Sicilian specialties have medieval Arab roots and
influences, don't expect to find much accommodation in this regard. Many Sicilians barely understand the concept of religious
dietary proscriptions; on Lenten Fridays you'll see plenty of "Catholic" Sicilians indulging in meat.