Palermo – what a city. Tony and I returned from a long weekend trip on Monday and I am still reeling from the experience. I cannot believe how many memories I was able to make in such a short span of time.
The best way to describe it, given how much there is to share, is to break it down into chunks (and different blogs!) – so here goes…Palermo, Italy: Part I.
To start, we were able to make this trip really affordable. We booked our plane tickets months ago as part of a Swiss Airline sale and we secured a great AirBnB for very cheap. We had a very early flight so we landed by 8:00 AM and I told the AirBnB host we would be at the apartment by 9:00. Silly me, I forgot I had just landed in Italy.
Getting our one checked bag took 35 minutes on it’s own, and by the time we got on the shuttle to the car rental location, it was well past 10:00. Everything was very chill, no stress, and as much as I wanted to get to our rental apartment, I was fairly chill too.
Once in the car, we started on our way but as soon as we entered the city limits of Palermo, we were on high alert. I’ve been in countries where people drove crazy before but never as the spouse of the driver. Tony became very red and I could read the stress on his face as cars cut in front of us, vespas sped past us and trucks weaved in and out of narrow lanes. Once we finally parked by the apartment, we were able to breathe again. Even though we had rented the car to travel around the island, after our arrival, we were unsure how confident we would feel venturing out again.
As we drove along, I made sure to take it all in. It was fascinating to me – the buildings had peeling walls, the people looked straight out of a US beach town, but it still felt so authentic, real. The smells of food and the sea, the talking with the hands, old men sitting in groups doing nothing – I couldn’t wait to explore.
The AirBnB we had rented was in an unbelievable location, right by the Palermo Cathedral. We actually parked behind the church while we waited for our host to come get us. As soon as we had dropped off our bags, we of course had to check out this magnificent structure.
The Palermo Cathedral, according to Wikipedia, “is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Palermo, located in Palermo, Sicily, southern Italy. As an architectural complex, it is characterized by the presence of different styles, due to a long history of additions, alterations and restorations, the last of which occurred in the 18th century.” That’s all fine and good – I just knew that I couldn’t stop snapping photos of it.
We continued along and realized we were starving. Our AirBnB host had given us two great restaurant recommendations that were near the apartment, so we started with what was closest – La Galleria. Little did we know we were staying next to the #5 TripAdvisor restaurant in the city. When we found that out later, we weren’t surprised – the food was sensational. Tony ordered pasta carbonara and almost fell off his chair from the food. You know he likes something by how his eyes roll really far back into his head and he has to close them. He can’t concentrate otherwise.
While sitting outside, I noticed all these very colorful wooden carts resting along the stone wall. As we were waiting for our food, I slowly walked along, running my hands along them, and snapping loads of photos. They looked like they were part of a circus act, but the way they lazily sat there, you’d think they were on a coffee break. These were the famous Sicilian Carts, and turning once again to Wikipedia, “the craft of making the carts is handed down from generation to generation, through the training of apprentices. Carts are known for being covered in carvings and brightly painted scenes from Sicilian history and folklore as well as intricate geometrical designs. These scenes also served the purpose of conveying historical information to those who were illiterate. The colors of Sicily’s flag, yellow and red, feature prominently on the carts, along with details in bright blues and greens. The animals pulling the carts are often elaborately adorned as well.” I absolutely loved them.
Our waitress at the restaurant was extremely kind. We asked her for some recommendations for the evening and she directed us along the shore line. There was a gorgeous outdoor bar right on the sea with live music and free potato chips. After a few drinks we then went for pizza at the second recommended restaurant from our AirBnB host, Al Manar. My interest was heavily piqued by the name, even more so by the Arabic music and belly dancers.
Well apparently, over the centuries, Sicily was a hot spot for all types of people, but especially Arabic people. There was a Muslim conquest that occurred in 827 and the period lasted through the 11th century. There were even some mosques we saw, which I doubt originated then, but still. I am absolutely in love with the Middle East and Arab culture and I couldn’t help but wonder if the fact that I was of Sicilian descent had something to do with that.
We slept well that night, our bellies full of delicious pizza, and I couldn’t wait for the next day – when I would go back to where my family all started.