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Family Ties in Sicily

Friday, November 5, 2010; 11:02 AM

Anthony Grant of New York is the latest contributor to Your Vacation in Lights, in which we invite Travel section readers to dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. You won't win a million dollars if your story is featured; in fact, you won't win anything but the thanks and admiration of your fellow readers. To file your own trip report, see the fine print below.

The trip: Sicily and the Amalfi Coast

Who: Two separated-but-civil parents and the son who wanted to show them why Sicily rocks.

Why: I wanted to see if my parents, after some 40 years of a challenging marriage, could behave like adults together, and what better place than the setting of some of cinema's most famous vendettas?

When: A 10-day window in June that fit with my anesthesiologist father's surgery schedule and also dodged the height of tourist season.

Prep and compromise: The trip began with (not surprisingly) a fight: My father wanted to see the Amalfi Coast, my mother wanted to visit only Sicily, and I wanted to explore the volcanic island of Stromboli. I wasn't sure how to combine everything, so I turned to Select Italy, an American company that specializes in travel to Italy, for hotel and itinerary tips. Then I started consulting ferry schedules.

Dry run on the sea: My parents are from St. Paul, Minn., and unless it's a lake, they hate the water. When I told them I had booked a ferry between Naples and Panarea, they looked nervous and asked about the size of the boat. I had no idea, but I told them we would take a boat trip around Capri as a "dry" run.

Cars and drivers: When researching private car services, I couldn't decide which was best, so I decided to try as many as possible. The first was Benvenuto. The driver fetched us in Rome and took us on a three-hour ride to Relais Blu, a hotel near Sorrento that overlooks the Isle of Capri. The following day, I booked a private tour of Pompeii with Car Sorrento. I had been to Pompeii before, but it was a beautiful jumble. I figured a guide would give the ruins greater context, and this proved correct. Renato from Car Sorrento also took us to Positano, our base for three days.

Capri ho: We took a short excursion to Capri (two rainy hours on land), and on the return, the weather turned rough. The whitecaps grew so big, they swept over the tiny ship's deck. (So much for the dry run.) My mother's face turned greener than the sea, and my father gave me the evil eye. Back on the beach in Positano, we all felt like kissing the black sand.

Island scramble: For the trip to the Aeolian Islands (of which Stromboli is one), we boarded the SNAV ferry, a hydrofoil that makes the four-hour crossing from Naples to Panarea. From there, we organized a day trip to Stromboli. Panarea is like a mini-Mykonos, with narrow whitewashed lanes, trendy restaurants and a relaxed island vibe; Stromboli is more severe, dominated by an active volcano at its center. My parents, in rare mutual agreement, decided that Stromboli wasn't for them. So we took the ferry back to Panarea, where my mother enjoyed the volcanic thermal waters at the Hotel Raya.

Best hotel: Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina, Sicily. Located between the ancient Greek theater and the Mediterranean Sea, the grande dame hotel offers views over the coast and to Mount Etna. After all our car rides and ferry transfers, none of us wanted to leave.

Honor thy father : I had been calling my Dad "Il Padrino" (Italian for godfather) during the trip. His favorite movie is "The Godfather," and some key scenes were (ahem) shot not far from Taormina. I found an English-speaking driver and Sicilian "Godfather" junkie who would drive us to the hill towns of Savoca and Forza d'Agro, with some scenic stops along the way.

The finale: My mother and I kept a code of silence about the "Godfather" excursion. We told my father that we were going for a hike up Mount Etna. Approaching a small taverna in Savoca, my father stammered, "But that's . . . Bar Vitelli!!" Indeed it was, the very place where a young Michael Corleone said he wanted to marry Apollonia in the movie. And it hadn't changed much: faded movie memorabilia inside, a few tables outside, lots of sun. Our guide ordered the local specialty, brioche stuffed with fresh lemon granita. And like a Hollywood ending, my parents seemed to forget the years of . . . let's call them issues . . . and paused to savor the sweetness of the moment.

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