Drive by Palermo

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Italy  ,
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

I made it back to Valletta from Gozo in time to do some serious research before returning the next morning to Sicily, as I was hoping against the odds that a ferry might be heading to Tunisia from there in a convenient timeframe.

The internet said yes - in the evening a couple of days hence - so I wandered Malta's streets one last time with a smile on my face. Whilst doing so I met a Portuguese sea grass expert called Alexandra looking for a place to stay (seemingly very difficult to come by on a Sunday afternoon in Valletta), so I helped her out with that and afterwards had an excellent dinner at a funky place called Cafe Jubilee. Cheers for the company Alexandra la Valletta, I hope you make it to Australia some day to see our (apparently) excellent array of sea flora!

The fast catamaran left at 7am next morning. The only consolation about that ungodly hour was I might get to see the sunrise on the massive walls around town, but I wandered the cavernous streets too long getting to the port and the red and orange glow was gone by the time we set sail. Still, the view aft was the first decent look at the city I'd had in its entirety and it certainly lived up to expectations as one imposing place. Bon voyage Malta.

Buses across Sicily took awhile once I'd landed at Pozzallo (out of interest, very near Montgomery's landing site at Gela and the first occupied territory to be retaken by the allies in WWII), but I was treated to some of the most magnificent landscape I've seen on the entire trip - without a doubt. I know that is saying a lot but the interior of this large and quite densely populated island is exquisite despite the constant habitation, agriculture and large-scale armed conflict that it has seen since at least the time of Dyonisis and the Greek Sicilians around 2,500 years ago.

Reading a potted history of his exploits against Carthage whilst crossing was a treat - I could almost imagine the gods shaping the golden surrounds, pinching the earth into short, sharp peaks that punctate the dark fertile plains and low rolling hills. It also put many of the modern towns and cities that still exist today into a historical context, and greatly increased my desire to head south to Tunisia (once Carthage) from here instead of heading north and onwards to a new home.

I eventually arrived at Palermo and after finding accommodation a visit to the port confirmed a sneaking suspicion. The ferry was due to depart at 10am next morning - not late the next night! Shame - I'd hoped for a full day sightseeing in Palermo before getting on the boat and sleeping it off but that was no longer meant to be, so I headed back out to do a little as the sun set.

Walking the streets at dusk and it quickly became apparent that Palermo is not a pretty place - apparently it was extensively bombed in WWII and since then uncoordinated development has mingled itself amongst the ruins and decaying structures of early periods - that themselves were built hot-potch in a labyrinth of medieval lanes. Get off the main streets and piazzas and you find rot and dank from floor to ceiling, the result of years of siphoning of national and EU reconstruction funds by organised crime.

Still, I made it to the Quattro Canti area - a crossroads of main thoroughfares with large monuments in each corner containing statues and coats of arms, which was also used to display the heads of criminals spiked on poles in days gone by. Piazza Pretoria has a striking and risqué fountain of nudes reminiscent of those I've seen in the north of the country, and the Bank of Sicily was also a highlight - we'd crossed Costra Nostra country on the bus and I'm sure some of the siphoned funds have sloshed through these walls too.

I don't know what the large, ugly monument is in the last picture but it is possibly the most hideous creation I've seen in the past year... Sheesh. I think I'm starting to sound a little jaded here..? Oh well, one thing I still appreciate is seeing the flying bagpipes wizz by - if I can get it uploaded, check them out in a little video here.

So in all it was a rushed, drive-by of a job and not really the right time to sightsee anyway. I expect there is some spectacular Norman design inside the churches around town, but after looking at the map there is pretty much only churches here so I won't be too concerned if I don't make it back this trip - if it makes time to see something a little different.

Next entry -> off to Tunis(ia)

I didn't know...

That Sicily is a semi-autonomous state of Italy, nor that the flag I included in the recent Syracuse entry is their triskelion (from the Greek "three-legged") flag.

The triskelion is one of the oldest symbols known to mankind and Sicily's, who's dates back to 1282 has a Medusa face smiling out of the crutch. The Isle of Man's flag, dating from the mid 1700s also features a triskelion but without the pretty face.

There you go - thanks to dad for sending that through.
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