Sean\’s Sicily

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Hotels Hotels Hotels

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One of the big things still outstanding after all the planning, is the honeymoon.  In this, Sonia and I have some conflicting ideas.

I’ve done a lot of travelling, been to a lot of places, some nice, some not so nice.

One thing I’ve learned is that to get the best prices for the best stuff – you need to do it yourself.

This doesn’t fly for a honeymoon, especially if you want your guests to chip in and help pay for it.  In Sicily for sure, you can’t just ask everyone to hand you brown envelopes.  It’s just not educato.

So per forza we have to use an agency.  And then you start paying agency prices.  Which, for the first agency we tried, was an average markup of 300% on the published rates.

Yep, that’s NOT a type – 300%.  €165 a night for the Travelodge Wynyard, which, if I book it myself, will today cost me €55.

OK, so we’ve decided to not use that agency for the hotels.  Marangolo are happy to book the flights for us themselves, and the price is the same for everyone for flights.  Our friend Vicenzo of Around-Sicily.com explained that on flights the margins are almost invisible, and that it’s on hotel bookings and tours that agents make money.

As such, we’ve asked Vincenzo to book our hotels – he won’t gouge as much as another agent.  Of course he needs to make a profit, and that’s fine, but I’m not paying anyone 300% if I can help it!

As a result of my preference to book everything myself, and if I can’t specify to the smallest detail what I want and how much I know it’ll cost, I’ve done a lot of research on hotels and I’ve definate favourites.  I was thinking of using the Shangri-La chain for all our stays, and I’ve sent an email to their booking office to see what discount they’ll offer if we do that.  The Shangri-La in Sydney has (reportedly) the best views in Sydney, of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.  Otherwise I’m also considering the Observatory hotel, and lastly the humble (in my opinion) Four Points by Sheraton, which at best has views only of Darling Harbour – BORING!

For Katoomba I’m just not at all convinced by the option – there’s some very expensive boutique hotels, but the TripAdvisor reviews are very mixed – there’s the usual gushing happiness, and then some very detailed and very negative reviews.  The more detailed the review, the higher my opinion is of it, so I’ve come away with a fairly negative opinion.  As such, I reckon I’ll be booking the YHA – ‘what?’ I hear you all scream – but youse haven’t been to the YHA in Katoomba, it’s great.  Combined with a private double-room ensuite, what more do you want?  The room will just be used for bathing after hours-long bushwalks along the Escarpment – although I don’t know if Sonia has quite understood that yet 🙂

In Cairns I was thinking Shangri-La again, or Il Palazzo Apartment Hotel, which looks nice.  Lastly, the Tradewinds by Rydges is the economic option.  We might be all luxury-ed out by Sydney and Paradise Bay!

Hong Kong proves to be a difficult one – my friend Peter Wong strongly recommended that we stay on the Island – he dismissed Kowloon as being just for stupid tourists.  All the real people stay on the Island, and it’s much nicer 🙂  But the best reviews are on Kowloon side – hmm, maybe the type of people who stay on the Hong Kong side aren’t the type who write reviews in TripAdvisor?

Anyway, Peter’s from Hong Kong so he knows what he’s talking about, and better yet, he has friends on Hong Kong island which maybe we can meet up with and get an insider’s guide.  So I’ll follow his advice and stay on the Island.  I’m thinking Shangri-La again, or the Conrad or Marriott, and the economic option is the L’Hotel Causeway Bay Harbour View.

There’s a big difference in price obviously between the best and the cheapest. Mind you, the cheapest options here aren’t all that cheap, and they’re definately not low-grade hotels.  I think the lowest is the Four-Points by Sheraton, which is probably a bit posher than my favourite hotel, Jurys Inn on Parnell Street, in Dublin.   Going with the best rooms in the all the Shangri-La hotels, it works out to about €224 a night.  Going to the most economic options, it works out to about €65 a night.

Honestly I think we’re going to mix and match – start out with the Shangri-La in Sydney to get over the jetlag and for the great views, and then opt for the more economic hotels as we go along.  That knocks the price up to about €89 a night, which isn’t at all bad.

Of course, once I include Paradise Bay… aiya!  BUT Paradise Bay includes the transfers from the airport and all food & drink, so that’s something to consider.

Which reminds me, I must write them and tell them I don’t like fish very much…

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Wedding in Sicily – done with the planning, now begins the paying!

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After a couple of months of planning, my wedding is really starting to get close.  So close in fact, that now they paying begins 🙂

Obviously Sonia has already found and paid for her dress.  She has to make an appointment for a fitting in April, but she wants to see it sooner so she can refresh her memory and buy all the girly accessories that she needs.

The reception is being held at a place called Villa Mantegna in Trecastagni – these guys have a famed bar in Catania, so they’ve a reputation.   Plus, Sonia’s aunt and mum have heard good things about Mantegna, so hopefully all will go down well there!  We’ve got a few hundred euro on account, and Ignazio and I will split the final bill based on the headcount.

We’ve completed the hand-made invitations.  Ignazio is delivering them by ones and twos to his relatives in far-flung and remote corners of Sicily.  I need to figure out how much the invites cost us in the end, but that’s the subject for another post.

The bomboniere have been selected, by Cascella on Via Giuffrida, which everyone approves of, and whilst not Caltigirone (of which we found undeniably beautiful pieces with an undeniably high price-tag) it’s very typical of the Sicilian style and equally useful for our Irish guests as well as the Italian ones.  We’ve put down a few hundred euro on account and have to pick them up late in April.  We’re splitting that bill based on headcount too – Ignazio ordered up 40 more than Sonia and I wanted, plus another 20 sets of the flower-thingie-with-sweets, to give to relatives and friends who don’t make the wedding. 

The florist has been hired, Di Fiore in Fiore.  As they are friends of Andrea, they gave us a really good price, plus the security of knowing that we can trust them to deliver.  Contact details on the website.  We went for a minimal classical package, as the church is really small, so too many flowers would overwhelm everything.

I went out yesterday with Sergio and Allessia to find myself a suit.  After humming and hawing a bit, I decided on a suit in Albanese, on Corso Italia – the classic Catanese gentlemen’s outfitters.  The other on offer was a Burburry, in Papini, another classic Catanese outfitters.  That one I liked quite a bit, but it was Burburry, and it was more expensive.  So, um, thanks, but no thanks.  I left a few hundred on account with Albanese and have to go back next Saturday for fitting and paying half, then have to pick it up before the wedding and pay the rest.

So now I have to buy shoes, 1 pair, black.  Had a look today in Portalis and didn’t find anything I liked, only one shop had anything remotely decent, and they had plastic soles.  Um. No thanks.

I did however find some lovely watches for gifts… but that’s another blog too 🙂  Speaking of watches, Ignazio is insisting on buying me a watch for the wedding, which is traditional here.  Insisting, I say, but I’m not protesting too much 🙂  And that’s another blog – sorry, but I can’t write everything in this blog, can I???

So all in all, I’m nearly done with the wedding prep.

Except that I also have to buy cufflinks in steel, silver or white gold. 

And a belt, black, leather.  And that’s it…

Oh yeah, rings.  Gold.  Two.  Must get down to DiStefanos again.  Um, I think that’s it.

Oops, almost forgot to organise the B&B for the family.  Jeez, I’m not nearly done at all!  Aiuuuuuuto!

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