After being stood up early morning by the driver who was supposed to take us to Palermo we decided to take our lives into our own hands and brave the Sicilian streets and highways in a rental car. If you know anything about Italian drivers on mainland Italy you will know what I am talking about, but in Sicily it is 10x worse and Palermo takes the gold medal for pure random insanity on the roads. The first rule of driving in Palermo is there are no rules! The streets lined with dented and battered cars are evidence of that. The parking is as equally haphazard, after making a comment about it to one Sicilian he exclaimed with a proud smile, "We're democratic, we park where we like!" Due to this a new phrase has entered our lexicon, "Gone Palermo", for whenever we encounter an extraordinarily insane driver on the road.
We drove through the heart of Sicily which is mostly dry and flat with the occasional village-topped mountain and orange orchards. We followed the speed limit, but after being passed by every car on the highway including a police van we learned that the speed limit was more of a "suggestion" than law.
Upon arrival in Palermo and finding a parking spot near the cathedral a man began blowing a whistle at us and gesticulating. He told us we had to pay him €3 to park there and even though it was an obvious scam we paid up anyway to save having an argument or receiving a scratch down the car, or worse. He was very pleased and friendly then, placing a piece of paper with a "P" written on it under our windshield wiper. He promised to protect our car which no doubt meant keeping the other men down the road with their whistles from doing anything to it for not having a "permit". We had a few mishaps while driving, such as going the wrong way down a one way road and encountering a very patient and smiling truck driver, or following a road on the map that turned out to end at stairs (we could have pulled an Italian Job and driven down them, but decided against it). Other than these I think we did pretty well considering the chaos and unfamiliarity of the surroundings and it makes me feel much more confident about driving across Italy next month.
Palermo had a feeling of faded colonial grandeur about it. There were stark contrasts in the city; the centre was full of the regular chain stores and boutiques, but walk a few blocks away and you have some of the most dilapidated neighbourhoods I have seen. Nature is reclaiming much of Palermo, there are statues and buildings with trees and flowers growing out of them, knee high grass in squares, crumbling walls, building façades with their decorations and columns nearly crumbled to dust or missing completely. All around is a sense of decay and neglect of what was once a great city and mediterranean port. This may sound like I didn't like it, but that's not the case, I enjoyed exploring it. If you can find beauty in decay then Palermo is an extraordinarily beautiful city. I only wish that we had more than an hour to explore as I'd like to go back to take more photographs, focusing on the people (fortunately that may not be too difficult as there are flights directly to Palermo from London for £30 now. :)
The cathedral pictured below is a good example of the civilizations that make up Palermo's past. It started as a Byzantine basilica which was replaced by a Norman church, then turned into a mosque, and finally a cathedral with medieval and gothic features. Traces of Islamic influences, such as a Qur'an verse carved into a column, still remain in the architecture of the building.
ti amo :)
Speak, gentle niece, what stern ungentle hands
Have lopp'd and hew'd and made thy body bare
Of her two branches? - Titus Andronicus
crumbling façades and faded posters
one of the many stray dogs that roam the city in packs
Q: Do the oranges in Palermo taste as delicious as Sicilian oranges? Wonder if there's much difference or merely a matter of location and environmental factors such as rain and sunlight? I know, it's a weird question. I'm like that especially with my love of food. ';^)
The architecture is stunning and my favorite photo's in this series are the ones with the light streaming down from the cathedral ceiling sunlights'.
On April 27th, 2007 03:49 am (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
Gorgeous photos! The bird one makes me smile. :) I enjoy reading about your trip, as well.
Angelo has told me there's a reason he didn't get a license until he moved to America. He says, "If you think Palermo's bad, wait 'til you see Napoli!"
Even so, I'm getting an International Driver's Permit, for extra identification if nothing else.
Kiss! Hug! & Ti amo, tanto, tanto! :)
Hehe the graffiti bird was a nice surprise on the side of the cathedral.
Napoli is worse than Palermo? I didn't think it was possible.. I may choose to be a pedestrian only there, then again that may be more dangerous. ;)
Next month and we will be European neighbours. I still cannot believe it. :)
Ti amo! xoxo!
I miss Italy. A lot.
I was just a passenger during my trip but I can totally appreciate your comments on the driving.
My lasting memory of Italy and the small town we stayed in (Castellina in Chianti) is of old people sat down on the street outside our window, chatting away and drinking wine at oh.. 11pm. Now that's enjoying life. I can't even begin to imagine that happening here.
If you ever go back, do consider Castellina in Chianti. It's in the Tuscan hills and is extremely beautiful.
Paul, it is good to hear from you again. :)
I haven't visited Tuscany yet, always desired to.. we will be driving through it in a few weeks, but time spent there will be limited. Your trip sounds great, I saw many scenes like that in Sciliy.. it is a slower pace of life there and healthier I think.
I hope you are well!
Wow, I never log in here anymore, but happened to and saw this and had to say hello and leave a note.
I spent a glorious week in Palermo last May and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It truly is a unique place and I had lovely adventures! I rented a fabulous apartment from this tiny little economics professor who sent me off to lovely bars and restaurants. I really do long to go back.
Thank you for the photos, it made me go back into my own archives and reminisce!
I hope you and M. are well.
Lara, wow! It is wonderful to hear from you again after all these years.
I envy your renting an apartment and being shown around by a local, always the best way to go to have a city and culture really sink in. I will probably be going back to Palermo later in the year or next year, not only because of the cheap flights from London now, but to use it as an occasional meeting place with my step-mother who is moving near Naples. When I do I hope you don't mind if I ask for a few recommendations. :)
We're doing well, travelling a lot this year which is always good for me, helps to reset my mind and approach things fresh when I return. I still have some travels to catch up on here, including Morocco which affected me so deeply that I don't even know how to start writing about it!
Hope you are well too, are you still in London?