Trip Start Jun 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Italy  , Sicily,
Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ok so our ferry ride was a mixed bag. It wasn't too busy so there was space to wonder and such but our sauna... I mean closet... uh... I mean cabin left a lot to be desired. We could barely fit in it let alone all of our stuff. The views in the morning however made up for it. It is hard to feel bad about a 13-hour trip when the last hour is spent sipping a cappuccino while watching Palermo, Sicily come into view.
Palermo has close to 700,000 people and they all drive their cars... through the old town... at the same time... like they are two hours late for their own wedding. You must have a death wish to get in a vehicle here. There is no such thing as lanes and sometimes not even sidewalks are out of bounds. It is too bad because if the drivers slowed down to look around their gorgeous town they would see a 3000-year-old cultural potpourri. Sicily has been conquered by just about everyone over the years and each of them left their mark architecturally and gastronomically. It was neat to walk two blocks and pass an Arab-Norman Cathedral, Spanish baroque sculptures, and a Renaissance fountain while eating a cannoli and sipping on a Granita purchased from a Moroccan bar. We are thinking of trying the "Pizza Kebab" tomorrow. Crazy.
We stayed in a great little B&B a stone's throw from the Teatro Massimo, a grand neoclassical theatre that took over 20 years to build and was opened in 1897 to celebrate the unification of Italy. It is also the place where the final scene in The Godfather III was filmed. We were more that content to simply stroll the streets of the old town and check it all out (stopping for the occasional pastry of course). We stopped at a nice patio on the main square to cool off with a beer and were immediately fascinated by the hordes of Sicilian teenagers. They were doing laps around the block trying to out-fashion each other. The girls giggling at the passing boys who were whistling at them for as long as they could be seen and heard... until the next lap around of course where the ritual would repeat itself. Boys at home would get beaten up for wearing that much pink with golden shoes and having enough gel in their hair to stop a truck. Fascinating stuff.
Just out the front door of our accommodation we found the start of an open-air market that stretches through the windy streets seemingly endlessly. It just kept going on and on around every corner and down every alley. We are sure that if you need it (or don't) you could find it here. We also have a theory that this is the place all of the street vendors in the rest of the world come to buy their wares before trying to sell you all those rip-off designer sunglasses, purses, trinkets, and other crap. They seem to pop up everywhere with their tables full of goodies even in the most unlikely back alleys. It was hard to take it all in especially when you have to dodge the countless mopeds zipping buy with little regard for elbows and toes.
We later came across one park on our stroll that was full of older men sitting around a wee table yelling at each other while playing Mata (a fabulous card game). It seemed very stereotypical, but the stereotypes have to come from somewhere. After a break from trying not to melt (It is about 36-degrees here every day) in our air-conditioned room and a bottle of great Sicilian wine, we headed out to eat at the oldest pizzeria in town. Pizzeria Bellini has a large terrace situated in a quiet piazza surrounded by gorgeous churches. A very pretty spot if you can avoid the starving feral cats scrounging under the odd table for food.
The next day we headed to check out the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace). It was built in the 12th century and is now home to the Sicilian Parliament. What was most striking was the Chapel inside. It is truly jaw dropping. The whole place is covered in mosaic tiles from wall to wall and floor to dome. We snuck some pictures as this was the prettiest church we have been in on this trip yet. We headed back to the market that we toured the day before to pick up some things for our five-hour train ride to Siracusa the next day. It being Sunday, the market was maybe a third the size but just as intense. What made it interesting was that on Saturday there were big metal doors covered in spray paint between some of the vendor's stands (that we didn't pay much attention to). On Sunday however, these doors are raised to reveal entrances to gorgeous churches. It was quite a different dynamic to one day stroll through this intense market and the next day try and do the same with the added stimuli of all these beautiful churches in between fruit and fish stands.
Palermo is an incredibly fascinating place with so much history to offer. You could probably smell it if it wasn't for all the fish stands in 36-degree heat...
Off to Siracusa!!
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