Sicily Trip By Emma Meade

On Monday, 15 May 2017 – after months of emails, telephone calls and preparations – we were speeding in a taxi from various parts of Cambridge heading to Gatwick Airport and final holiday destination Sicily.

There were five excited passengers: Yijing Zhang, Brian Wagg, Khalid and Juveria Momen and Emma Meade.

This holiday was one of several run by Seable Holidays, a company whose aim is to give visually impaired customers a holiday which is accessible for them.

The special assistance which we had booked was excellent; and when we were on the Norwegian Air flight, we were given a Braille leaflet which not only contained the safety instructions, but also had diagrams of the aircraft showing the emergency exits.

We were met at Catania Airport by Francesco who was to be our tour guide and driver for the whole week.

We were staying in two private apartments outside the city centre and the daily breakfasts on the patio prepared by the owners of the apartments were memorable, always in the sunshine with the accompaniment of collared doves and wood pigeons.

Our first full day was spent on the beach with the opportunities of experiencing wind surfing or paddle boarding. Titziana and Marco, who ran a wind surfing school, communicated the instructions clearly and helped us all to feel safe.

Wednesday included a visit to a tactile museum in Catania. When you entered the building there was a raised path to follow and if you went onto the smooth flooring, this meant that you were off course and needed to get back onto the raised path to find your way round. A head and shoulders statue of Louis Braille was there to welcome us inside the door. There were also models of The Dome of the Rock, The Wailing Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There was also an elephant which is the animal associated with Catania and the model of a castle at Acicastello which we would be visiting later in the week.

We then experienced the smells of a fish market and Francesco treated us to two of the cold drinks which are associated with Sicily – mandarino e limona and a similar one which had salt in it.

After lunch and a shopping opportunity we went on the first of the food tastings which were to become a regular feature of our holiday. Duci are a company who make desserts for restaurants and we went into the laboratory to taste some of the products. We each had an individual cup with each dessert in them – mousses, cheesecakes, Keyline pie and granita which is a typical dessert of Sicily. Delicious!

Thursday saw us travelling a little way up Mount Etna to an organic farm. After smelling some of the herbs and looking at the chestnuts and hazelnuts, we were introduced to some of the farm animals, a goat with a wonderful beard and a donkey. Apparently, if you touch a goat’s horns, it brings you good luck.

We then went into the farmhouse to experience the typical Italian lunch cooked by the farmer’s wife. We learned that lunch is the most important family meal and is taken very slowly. I think there were about five courses – the most memorable being the dessert course which contained two desserts – a rum barber and cannolo, a pastry tube which contained ricotta cheese and almond. Of course there was wine with the meal; and after coffee, we were treated to Grappa, a spirit which burns the back of the throat! I got used to it after a while and decided that I enjoyed it.

Then followed a wine tasting at a vineyard which included a wine which contained apple from Mount Etna. I actually bought a bottle to take home and it is now waiting for that special occasion!

Friday was the visit to the castle at Acicastello which I mentioned earlier. A lot of climbing was involved, but we all managed it and it was lovely to be up high feeling the cool air with the sea below us.

After lunch in a fishing village, Acitrezza, which became a favourite of mine, we returned home and took advantage of the swimming pool which belonged to our apartments. As was our routine every evening, we ate out in a local restaurant.

A later start on Saturday, as this was the day to tackle Mount Etna. After a stop on the way to get our lunch which we were to take with us, we started our ascent up the mountain in a cable car. We had agreed unanimously to go right up to the main crater of the volcano, so we went up further in a bus, very bumpy like turbulence in an aeroplane.

Then followed a climb in the company of other tourists and a mountain guide. Snow and ice could still be seen on the mountain and we were given pieces of lava which were still hot after an eruption on 25 April. We were climbing on 20 May.

When we reached the top, we were 3,500 m high, which would be about 10,000 ft. Coming down was more difficult, but we all managed successfully. Nobody fell over and we were all glad that we had had the experience. We were the first visually impaired group that Seable had taken right up to the main crater.

Heaven of a different sort was experienced in a honey factory. Not only honey, but olive oils, olives, wines and liqueurs, plus products made from the honey, were there for us to sample. This was a wonderful opportunity for buying presents and at a very reasonable price.

A meal at a porcini restaurant ended a wonderful day and Brian and I could not resist drinking a red wine from Etna with our meal.

Sunday was a second day on the beach, the choice of Juveria, who celebrated her birthday the previous day. Another opportunity to brush up on our wind surfing and paddle boarding skills.

In the evening we went to the tapas bar where Francesco works. A great sharing of Sicilian food.

Monday, 22 May, was the final day. After packing, we had our final lunch together in Acitrezza and then a walk along the seafront and a final shopping opportunity for the ladies. I managed to speak to the shop assistant in Italian, which were a great success and a proud moment for me.

Then the sad part – travelling back to England, which went very well, with the Special Assistance at both Catania and Gatwick Airports doing us proud.

The final taxi journey home was a quiet one with us all being transported safely to our destinations.

Each of us will have our own stories. For me, it was achieving my first real holiday abroad. Fears of sharing a room, managing with carry-on luggage and handling foreign currency were soon swept away. Our sighted companions, plus Francesco, our guide, were very helpful and we all got on well. We did not feel like tourists, but were shown the real Sicily – rather like a friend showing us where he lived. Speaking for myself, I would go on another holiday.

Special thanks should go to Yijing for organising the holiday as well as to Francesco of Seable Holidays.

To find out about Seable Holidays, go to their website www.seable.co.uk or 0207 749 4866