Sunday, August 10, 2008

Palermo

Wednesday morning, we had a lovely breakfast in the Cefalu hotel, checked out, and walked through the town with determination to find last-minute souvenirs, check email/blog, mail packages, and get foodstuffs for the train trip to Palermo. Internet was no problem, we found a kiosk inside a video rental place (they kicked us out after 2 hours). Mailing packages was more difficult as the post offices were closed for Cefalu Patron Saint day (the reason for nonstop marching band the night before). Mail Boxes etc wanted over $100 to mail a small package because they aren't an authorized stamp seller and have to use 3rd party carriers. So with luggage, gifts, and lunchings in tow, we took the train to Palermo.

When we got off the train, we asked around and learned that our hotel was not as close to the train station as we had hoped. We decided it would be best to try again to mail the packages ASAP as it was not a holiday in Palermo (but these holidays do seem to pop up without warning!) We go to the post office in every country we visit - either to buy postcard stamps (or in the case of Ukraine, the postcards themselves), to mail souvenirs/gifts, etc. As tourists, it is the single best way we found to get a feeling for the realities of everyday life in a country. In Germany, the post office lines move swiftly and they have automated stamp machines, but there and many different lines depending on what you want to do, and we can never figure out which one to be in. In Spain, there is one line, but it is longer than the post office itself, and it's a game just trying to figure out what order people are in - and if you are travelling with enough people in your party, you can send them out to buy tape and envelopes because it's impossible to get any supplies in the post office itself. In Greece, the lines are short and the staff is super friendly. In Italy, there are way too many lines and it's impossible to determine which ticket to take. Most people seem to take one of each kind of ticket, so when the current number being called is 87 and your ticket says 129, you're only a few people away from the front of the line because most people are actually looking for different services. They sell all the supplies you might need (although there is definitely a shortage of rolls of tape - the box we bought came with exactly enough little squares of tape to satisfy the minimal adhesive requirements for this box - and there was no tape anywhere to be found in the posteitaliane other than the proverbial red tape), the bureaucracy is high (they don't say this when in the box-buying-department, but apparently the medium yellow box can be mailed with no problems, but the infinitesimally-larger-than-medium blue boxes require an Italian citizen ID card number to be mailed due to their size -- and they require a return address based in Italy), and the postal workers are the exact opposite of what you would except in a government-run organization (the agent was helpful and skillfully maneuvered around the issues of the blue box / ID number, printed stamps that were too large for postcards, return address that was out of the country, etc).

After offloading the packages, we rolled our suitcases all the way across town to the hotel room, unloaded our gear, and proceeded to engage in seeing the sights. Palermo is an amazing place, it has been mostly neglected since WWII, and so you can see it as it was in the mid 20th century. It has been ruled by many distinct civilizations through the years - Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Norman, Arab, Spanish, and Italian. You can see the impact of those influences as you walk through the 4 quarters of the city which are like taking a time machine to each of the ancient civilizations. Some of the iconic structures such as the Cappella Palatina and Palermo Cathedral have all influences within one structure as they were built and augmented by each ruling group. In the Arab quarter, there are markets/bazaars and ancient mosques-turned-churches galore. We snacked on street food and, by the end of the evening, made it down to Piazza Marina for drinks and a Sicilian hors d'oeuvres sampler platter.

Wednesday night and Thursday morning we caught up on emails/blogging and switched to serious sightseeing mode at noon. First was the Royal Palace and Cathedral. The church had the most amazing wall mosaics depicting various scenes from the old and New Testament - also I noticed Jewish stars and multiple kinds of 10-pointed stars throughout. In the basement, you can view the ancient-ancient history of the palace as they have recently unearthed the Byzantine and Punic walls from the 8th century BC.





Then we took the bus to the Catacombe dei Cappuccini - our guidebooks list it as being in the suburbs and requiring a bus ride. After waiting about 20 minutes in the scorching heat, we hopped on the bus and were shocked when in only 2 minutes the bus driver told us we were there! In the underground catacombs, former residents of Palermo are housed, some lying down and some standing, most just hanging out in the corridors. SPOOKY!





We walked back towards the Palace at Independence piazza and when we were a block away, we stopped by a friendly-looking little trattoria. That was when we got sucked into the world of Michele Marchese, the super-friendly trattoria owner. He had a fruit stand on this spot for many years and remodeled it as a restaurant after getting shaken down by the police one too many times. Now in the restaurant business for 8 years, he loves posing for pictures, telling visitors his story (in mixed Italian, American tv show references, and gestures), and most of all receiving letters and photos from his new "Friends" after they return home. We ordered panini’s but Michele insists on bringing his specialty eggplant dishes and spaghetti con carne. This is by far the most authentic and original food we have had on this trip -- YUM!





We did a bit of window shopping and browsing through clothing stores, rested in the room with some mindless watching of Fox on SkyB, then headed out into the night. Since our flight was scheduled for 6am Friday morning and we had to leave the hotel at 4am, we decided to stay up all night. We walked around the Marina area and enjoyed ice cream and drinks in packed outdoor cafes into the wee hours.

2 comments:

The other Olga said...

I thought the Simpsons was clever social satire, therefore not mindless..

Dave said...

Depends on which season ;)