Years ago, Peter and I came to Palermo on our way to Taormina in Sicily. The train at the airport was to take us to the next location so that we could get to our final destination. It was at a time when the Mafia shut down the trains from the airport forcing us to catch a bus into the city centre. I’ve since learnt that bus stations are always in the scrappiest part of town. I was horrified and vowed never to return to Palermo.
I’ve changed my mind!
We are staying in an AirBnB in Palermo’s historic centre. We’re living amongst the locals, where the locals shop and eat. I think we are a bit of a novelty but using the local language I think is important I don’t want anyone thinking they can hoodwink us.
The fishmonger’s stall is just 20 metres away, of course we had a seafood dinner. vongole (clams), cozze (mussels), Merluzzo (I think it’s very similar to flathead), and gamberi (shrimp, the red variety). Four men across the wide kiosk served me, one shelled a raw prawn while I was trying to decide quantities and offered it to me. It’s my first experience eating them raw, so soft, sweet, a taste of the sea. We moved on to the vegetable stall holder next, ripe fresh tomatoes, to die for peaches freshly boiled potatoes lightly seasoned, still in the cauldron they were cooking in. The trader offered me one, you buy when you try produce like that. Lastly, we stopped at the man who simply sold olives and anchovies. Armed with all our goodies including two piping hot filoni (baguettes) fresh out of the oven just as we arrived at the Panificio (bakery) at 4.30pm.
I’ve arrived in food heaven.
It’s breakfast time and the street below us is bustling with movement, both people and vehicles. Men greet each other in the street with a kiss, there loud conversations and the odd car with stereo blasting loud enough for this street those surrounding to hear….here comes one now. Cars generally drive on the right but cross over in front of on coming traffic to turn left or right. Double ranked cars line the street and any space is fair go including across corners or if insufficient space then a driver will, without guilt, drive their car up the curb into the corner. Car accidents are the norm but after getting out to assess damage the drivers will farewell each other without a single sign of annoyance.
Our host Sergio left a map for us pointing out all the high spots, I think we’ll just start from where we are and walk as much of the historic location.
Palermo is not my first experience as I previously mentioned, it’s a wonderful place, where the person to whom you ask a simple question will walk you to the place you are looking for..
There are times when people get a little too close though; our friends Kim & Rosie went out on a mission; get beer from the supermarket on the street over from us and then pick up a loaf of bread on our street just a little down from us, then home. It was an opportunity for them to wander a little and experience the location on their own. Most unfortunately as they left the bakery Kim became the victim of a foiled pickpocket attempt . His assailant sent a silver object across the footpath causing Kim to slip and fall to his knees, the assailant feigning assistance while reaching for Kims hip pocket where I can only imagine was the outline of his wallet. K & R’s astuteness saved them a significant loss and the offender knew Kim was serious when yelled out in good “Aussie” form, “get out of it”!
It has to dent one’s confidence and it did. It has taken Kim some time to recover from the loss of a bottle of beer but I think he is over it, now guarding his beer and hip pocket more diligently.
But seriously, he was rattled and who wouldn’t be, he certainly didn’t let the guy get away with it, but again it highlights the need to assess how we are perceived “as tourists”. We’re not all a light touch!
So what is there to see in Palermo? The Zisa Palace built in 1700s by the Moors and attached to a Chapel built in 1165 by the Normans and connected by a walkway. They say by day the inhabitants of the palace sinned, then went to the chapel to confess their sins.
I walked out to the Catacomb of the mummified Capuccini monks. Many families have brought their loved ones also to be mummified particularly children and infants; it broke my heart but I’ll tell you no more. To get there I walked through a lower socio demographic area when I thought we had seen the worst. I also came across a plaque memorialising the assassination of heroic members of the community and carabinieri by the “mafiosi”.
The return to the apartment held added interest, at around 4pm food carts were dotted the roadway preparing a fare of tripe (yum), quail or squab and simply olives, eggs and anchovies. Wish I could have hung around but I know when it’s time to go home!
If you have never been to Palermo, come and enjoy the sights, the smell, the people and their wonderful hospitality.
See you in Agrigento