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EXPLORING SICILY PART III-- Palermo
 
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EXPLORING SICILY -- PART III

PALERMO

 

Always reluctantly getting back on the road, but drawn on by new adventures, we traveled north back across the mountains toward Palermo, returning our car at the airport in mid-afternoon. With disappointment that our time in Sicily would soon be over and there being a bit of tension in the air we opted for a taxi back to the city rather than taking the bus that had brought us to the airport over a week ago. I seem to remember a discussion about exactly where the bus would be found that brought the taxi idea to the fore.

We did find a taxi and settled on a price; not cheap, but who's counting. In the end the real price was the number of years we lost on the ride. I think I remember screaming when I finally got out of the car at our Palermo hotel which is not to mention that the maniacal driver wanted a tip!! Did I kiss the ground? I may well have.

We settled into the Hotel Elite and went exploring our dining options. There are lots of them in this area of the city.

 

Next day we headed back to the Botanical Garden. It truly is extraordinary and we always found like minded souls walking the paths or seated quietly absorbing the peace in any one of many magical areas.

To see much more of this centuries old garden, please visit my website green gardening cooking curing.com

 
 
 
After a few hours we were sated and it was time to walk to the Vucciria market. Not a block from the garden we found a shop with great gelato and stopped for our late breakfast -- pistachio for me and a coffee/dark chocolate combo for Stassi. With good reason Palermo is renowned in Italy for its incredible gelato.
 

On the way to the market we first passed a street filled with orchid trees in full bloom and stumbled upon the lovely understated La Magione church. We stopped to admire the architecture, but walked on not wanting to miss exploring the market.

 

 

La Magione

 

As is customary, we got lost and passed through some very dicey neighborhoods without incident before finally getting to Vucciria. While not large compared to the markets we're used to in Mexico, Vucciria is a vibrant place full of people selling and buying and just milling about taking everything in.

There are piles of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish stalls and meat shops. There are cheese and wine shops and bread shops and restaurants. Mom and Pop eateries compete with fellows selling reading glasses, nice ones. We bought several and started a stampede of folks just off a tourist bus.

Most of what you need as a resident of the city can be found in this and another small market, but I can't imagine these two markets can supply the city's entire population. I suspect that supermarkets are making headway. While at Vucciria we stopped at one of the frying shops and bought take away fried squid, artichoke hearts and the arrancini I already miss. Then it was time for a nap! Later we'd be out for dinner and strolling the lively streets.

To see how an Italian American chef, Fabio Viviani, makes these little wonders, click on the link below. We made them and I do have to say they aren't as wonderful as they are in Italy, but they are very good (the secret is in high quality bread crumbs and excellent rice or risotto if you have some left over).

http://screen.yahoo.com/easy-fried-rice-balls-29892901.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Pizza, even take out pizza, is an entirely different food in Italy, it is DELICIOUS!! On the right is how you buy oregano in a Sicily market.
 

Palermo Street Food

 

 

 

San Domenico Church

 

 

 

 

Next morning we were off to visit Villa Giulia described in a Rough Guide tour book of Sicily to be a precise and refined garden compared to its next door neighbor the Palermo Orto Botanico. It proved to be just the opposite.

Even in spring time when we visited I don't expect to find any garden in ruins. It broke my heart to see what appeared to be total neglect of what had been exquisitely cared for at one time. Of Villa Giulia not much remains of what I imagined it to be, but there are still beautifully executed sculptures along with a bittersweet sense of what once was. Leaving Villa Giulia, we were both a little sad, but heading directly across the street for some gelato greatly improved our mood.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Leaving Villa Giulia and enjoying breakfast on foot we walked the port area aiming for our hotel a few miles away. It was lovely.

 
 

Later that day we taxied to the English Garden and chanced upon a special event with booths selling all sorts of natural products. Children ran about, they sat on the grass to be thrilled by a clown while mothers looked on, they were entranced by the little version of bumper cars and the other rides sized just for them. Mothers could be seen on benches having conversations with their three year olds. Dads carried infants and chatted to them about all that was going on. It reminded us of times past in much of the world. Sicilians do truly love their children. We bought flowers and had a lovely dinner.

 
 
 
The following day it was time for a little culture. Our hotel was wonderfully situated so that we could walk almost anywhere and that we did! This day we were heading toward the cathedral with the Il Capo market to cap the day. We began walking down a busy street with no end of things to see and think about and then there was Quattro Canti ahead which gave us a real focus. Turning right from there we were torn between our delight in the architecture to my lifetime fascination with alleyways. A stop for gelato seemed in order.
 
 
The facade of the building on the right was decorated with lights and the beautiful second story iron balcony held the lovely carved birds in the photograph on the left. The street level had been updated in the usual style of the always chic Italians.
 
The balconies of these two buildings were literally falling to the street and so had been contained by iron netting.

 

All over Palermo you will see projects like the one below -- stylish old buildings being meticulously restored.

 
This is just one of dozens of intriguing alleyways in the city, some wide enough for small cars, others only for pedestrians, bikes and scooters. We were amused by the new air conditioner installed on the rag tag old building on the right and we were taken with the beauty of the paving stones.
 
Slowly walking a few more blocks, we came upon the city block sized Palermo Cathedral. The photographs below will tell more than I ever could. It is an amazing structure in a city of amazing structures and still it holds its own. I will leave its history to others and just admire what man can do with enough money.
 
 
 
 

 
 

  Now for a little nap....

 
 

The Cathedral is part of the neighborhood, an extraordinary structure that you can pass every day on your way to work.

 

 
Leaving the cathedral we aimed for the Il Capo market and actually got there without any detours. Smaller than Vucciria, Il Capo seems more selective in the goods it presents for sale. The focus seems more on high quality food -- fruits and vegetables, meats and fish, wines, breads and cheeses -- than on dollar store items. Having filled a backpack while walking through the market we then came upon a wonderful take out restaurant and then a bread shop. Ladened with architecture and food we headed back to our hotel. Just a short nap and we'd be ready for more.
 

 

 
Palermo is a wonderful mix of almost falling down ruins where people still live and startlingly beautiful creations where people celebrate life. And, not all are churches as you can see below.
 

Massimo Theater

 

The next day would be our last as we would be sailing on the overnight ferry to Naples that evening. We chose to simply wander the city walking as if we were residents enjoying a lovely Saturday. It was the perfect choice in ending what had been a magical journey in this very special place.

My terrible photograph to the left for me symbolizes what I felt about Sicily visually -- the old, the aging and the new all entwined with greenery.

Sicilians are lively and interactive, they are excruciatingly polite given half a chance and they are generous. They have maintained their culture and way of life while confronting ever increasing tourism. Sicilians have stepped up to the plate on modernization, but have retained their character and their values. Bravo for them! We'll be heading back in the years to come.

 
Our overnight ferry was a terrific way to leave the island. It was a huge ship and in that time of year there were few passengers which made the journey especially pleasant. Viewing Palermo from the ship gave us a much improved sense of its size and position relative to the sea and surrounding mountains. Darkness came and the lights of the city dazzled as the ship pulled anchor and moved off. Much later we retired to our little cabin and slept the night through, despite our excitement at seeing Naples when we awakened.
 

Sicily by Car
Palermo Airport
We got a great little Fiat at a terrific price.
Rental Cars are cheaper to rent at the airport which gives you the opportunity to avoid driving in Palermo. I suggest you do just that and take a bus to and from the city rather than a taxi. The busses are tourist class and very comfortable. The taxis will take years off your life even if you arrive safely.

Hotel Elite
Via Mariano Stabile 136, Palermo
Tel: 39-091-329-318
Website: www.hotelelite.info
This was a perfectly adequate hotel in city where hotels quickly become very expensive. The Elite is much like a hotel we found in Rome on the spur of the moment. It is in a building of hotels, each independent hotel having one or more floors and providing more or less quality and service. A novel idea and it works if you don't mind entering the commercial first floor and hitting the elevator button.

The Botanical Garden, Via Lincoln, 90123 Palermo
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.ortobotanico.unipa.it/Benvenuto.html

Mina' Francesco Paolo, Via Pannieri 28, Palermo
This is one of those wonderful "frying shops." It can be found in the Vucciria market in the same area of the city as the Botanical Garden. This is some of the most memorable street food you'll have in Sicily or anywhere else for that matter.

Villa Giulia
Piazza Marina, Palermo
Tel: 091-740-4028

The English Garden
Viale Libertà
Palermo
Tel: 091-740-5756

NAPLES AND SICILY ESSENTIALS -- FOOD AND MORE

FOOD FIRST

Mozzarella di Bufalo Campan MORGESE truly fabulous

Gellato, Centro Storico, Via Benedetto Croce 61

Pizza vs foccacia
Pizza is something thin cooked in fewer about 5 minutes usually in a brick oven. Foccacia is thicker and often served at room temperature, but much more like what many Americans think of as pizza. For me the best pizza I ate in Sicily or Naples was at a little bakery in a small Sicilian town we passed through while trying to avoid driving directly through Palermo. It was on the main street across from a primary school. We stopped in to get some supplies for the road ahead and I ended up eating most of it while poor stassi was driving. The baker was there bringing out the goodies. Bless her.

Pistachios are grown in Sicily. Who would have thought? What it means is that the very best pistachio ice cream or gelato is right there and it is not dyed that peculiar acid green color as it is in the United States.

In Sicily gelato is often served on a bread roll. This seemed very peculiar.

Sfogliatella, Arancino, fritatina, Crocche' Suppli' -- these are some of the best foods in the world.

Coffee in Naples is considered one of the essential food groups. You'll find fabulous coffee bars on every block of the city.

Stop by and visit bakeries
Bakeries will have wonderful lunch foods ready around 10 or 11 AM. These will almost always include fresh bread of course, but often a variety of toppings on foccacia slices too. If you are lucky, you'll also find some of the fried treats of this part of Italy. You will save a huge amount over the cost of having even a simple meal in a restaurant and can pile up your change for a real splurge for dinner.

EVERYTHING ELSE

Smoking is still very popular in Italy, though it does seem to be a more restricted activity than it was about five years ago when we were last in the country.

Sicily -- remember it is an island and you are rarely far from a beach even if you can't see it

Negotiate, negotiate and negotiate some more and do it with humor and a little style for the best results.
If you do, you will end up with some significant savings.

Consider camping
Campsites are very professionally run and offer solidly built bungalows or fully equipped trailers for less than you will pay for an equivalently service hotel room. Plus you will normally have your own comfortable outside area to enjoy evening dining.

Stay away from traveling in summer months
Unless you actually enjoy being in crowded circumstances with long lines and impatient service, traveling in the summer months almost anywhere in the world will be disappointing. Give a go in the late spring or early fall for an opportunity to see countries at their very best.

When you can, use the internet to find hotels and even campsites.
Even if you use the internet in the morning to find a hotel for that evening you very well might find some good savings. And you will have the added advantage of knowing you'll have a bed to sleep in that night.

Traffic
I haven't touched too much on traffic, but I think Italians in this part of the country have made it something of a suicide mission. I don't know how there's anyone left. To get across streets, try looking for some Napolitanos to come along and cross right beside them. This worked very well, though after about a week we began to get the rhythm of just how to negotiate the chaos.

Dressing
Dress is usually very stylish, but casual and men generally seem to dress more carefully than women.

Courtesy
Italians are extremely civilized and you should be too!

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