- Palermo is the capital city of Sicily
- The island’s history stretches back to the 8th century BC.
- Palermo is divided by four quarters. The Quattro Canti, or ‘Four Corners’ district of Palermo, is the traditional heart of the historic city. It is located at the crossroads of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda and essentially marks out the four original quarters of Palermo – Albergheria, Capo, Vucciria and La Kalsa. Many of the city’s most famous historic monuments, including the Royal Palace and other leading tourist attractions, can be found here.
- Population – 654,735
- Roman Catholicism is highly important in Palermitan culture.
- Palermo is one of the warmest cities in Europe
- The patron saint is Saint Rosalia. There is a feast day on July 15 and is a big social event in the city.
- The city is famed for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, it has a history over 2,700 years. Palermo is located in the northwest of the island of Sicily, right by the Gulf of Palermo in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
- During World War II, Palermo was untouched until the Allies began to advance up Italy after the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. In July, the harbour and the surrounding quarters were heavily bombed by the allied forces and were all but destroyed. Six decades later the city centre has still not been fully rebuilt, and hollow walls and devastated buildings are commonplace. (wikipedia)
- The Mafia took advantage of corrupt city officials (a former mayor of Palermo, Vito Ciancimino, has been condemned for his bribery with Mafiosi) and protection coming from the Italian central government itself. Many civil servants lost their lives in the struggle against the criminal organisations of Palermo and Sicily. These include the Carabinieri general Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, the region’s president Piersanti Mattarella, Padre Pino Puglisi, a priest who had fought for the young people living in the suburbs, and courageous magistrates such as Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. (wikipedia)
This is my last full day in Sicily. So I wanted to make the most of it. Natasha was coming up to my place this time as she had not seen the Teatro Massimo – which is a must – being the 2nd biggest theatre in the world.
So first thing on the list was to check out the Grand Hotel et des Palmes – this is one of the most splendid hotels in Palermo in its prime. This hotel has a very broad history of very important guests one being Richard Wagner, who finished Parsifal within one of its luxuriously-decorated suites.
Over four days, between October 12–16, 1957, the American gangster Joseph Bonanno allegedly attended a series of meetings between some high-level Sicilian and American mafiosi in the hotel. It is rumoured Lucky Luciano held his office there.
It is a beautiful hotel if not a bit jaded – but with the statues and abundance of marble I can imagine it must have been wonderful in its heyday and holds many memories and ghosts.
We then decided to meander down the back roads towards the port area – it was a really interesting walk with the array of architecture and very different influences from their vast history of rule.
Our destination was to be the Botanic Gardens.
The Orto Botanico di Palermo date back to 1779 and as well as gardens houses a research institution. It covers about 30 acres and are currently home to at least 12,000 different species. I sensed that it was not being maintained as well as it should be but there were some amazing species of trees – some I had never seen before. It was worth a visit but think to increase tourism it needs a bit of an update and maintenance.
One mystery is the buildings at the gardens show a definite Egyptian influence – I cannot seem to find any reference to why this is – though designed by a Frenchman Léon Dufourny,
We stayed for a while as with Natasha being a garden architect this was up her street and she was in her element.
I think it must have been about 7 pm and we were getting hungry so felt it was only appropriate to visit Obika and the good looking italian waiter (have not I mentioned him before) – this is definitely worth the visit for the waiter alone. But food is good too. We each had lasagna and I can say it was one of the best lasagna’s I have ever had with a fantastic salad – this was followed by a last trip to the bakery/coffee shop which makes cakes to die for. I do not feel guilty as we had done about 5 hours walking today.
I have really enjoyed my three weeks here in Palermo – I have learnt a lot and its made me appreciate what I have at home. This have given me time for reflection and opened my eyes to other cultures and I won’t forget the warmth of the people I have come across in Palermo.
Today was a complete day off – so got up early and wanted to say goodbye to everyone involved in the trip at the Cesie office – cannot believe the three weeks are nearly over.
I then was meeting Natasha to catch the train to Cefalu – which is a seaside town about 1 hour away – 5.15 euros one way is actually quite a good price – what we did not know is that you are meant to stamp your train ticket before you get on the train. So when the inspectors came on board we promptly got a slapped wrist and a warning that it is a 50 euro fine – so now I know.
Cefalu is a tourist destination and you can see why, there a number of lovely lanes with wonderful shops and restaurants, a cathedral and sandy beaches as well as pretty rock faced bays.
The Cathedral, dated back to 1131, of Norman architecture which had been called Sicilian Romanesque. The exterior is well preserved, and decorated with interlacing pointed arches and pointed windows. This sits in a pretty piazza.
We had met up with John and Maria and meandered a little bit, had lunch but the main purpose of our visit was the sea. Though John and Maria had more energy and tackled the “rock” (la rocca) which dominates the town. There is evidence of a byzantine settlement dating back to the 6th century. The rock also houses a castle, church and a wall made up of saracen and greek architecture.
The town also shows evidence of roman rule including roman baths.
So Natasha and I hired a sunbed each and just basked in the sun and we also braved the sea – although weather was hot, the sea was cold. But once in, after you got over the shock, it was lovely.
I could have stayed longer in Cefalu it was a beautiful resort.
We ended the day watching the sunset and catching the 9.15 pm train home – tickets stamped of course.
Day 16 started as routine having our usual meetings then out Italian classes (I would like to continue to learn Italian) so will taken this up back in England.
I had another session at Ubuntu which was to be my last day – we played the same ball game as I think the children associated me with this game and time flies when you are having fun.
In between my lessons and Ubuntu, Natasha my friend had arrived in Palermo so walked down to the hotel where she was staying – Hotel Oriental – apparently this was once a palace though the hotel is only taking up part of this. Walking along minding my own business and this woman was blocking my path – I hissed a bit having to go out on the road – not noticing it was actually Natasha jesting about. Anyway we only had time for a coffee and quick catch up.
After Ubuntu I made arrangements to meet Natasha at my favourite place to eat which is Obika – a mozzarella bar. We decided to order some food but there was a lot of activity going on and the Obika staff apologised but informed us there was to be a launch that evening on the terrace where we were sitting.
We asked if we needed to go but they said no and bought us a drink – we then got chatting to the buyer and she explained that this restaurant chain is growing and there is one in London and a new one being launched in Kensington July.
We were having such a nice time watching the guest arrived – all dressed up – we decided to stay. Plus we were offered the canapes and wine so why not – think we were in the right place at the right time.
We then walked down to Piazza Garraffello alla Vucciria to watch cellist Giovanni Sollima – who is Palermo born and bred. He seems a bit of a celebrity here. He was very good and the music was haunting, which was enhanced by the backdrop of the church
I think Natasha was impressed with her first day in Palermo.
Again this is a short and sweet blog as these 3 days are low key.
On day 15 it was a bank holiday and after the long weekend in Taormina I decided to chill.
There is a nice sun terrace where I am staying and this was perfect for grabbing a bit of sun. So armed with my music and sun lotion up I went and spent a good 4 hours basking in the warm weather.
The terrace also gave me a view of Palermo and its many church turrets etc. I hear there are actually around 170 churches in Palermo and having visited some of them these are large, beautiful buildings even among the poorest of areas. I have decided I am going to study these churches and the history behind them.
A non eventful day but think I needed this.
Day 16 – Today I decided to get out and as it was another bank holiday I had no volunteering duties.
Maria and I decided to go to Mondello – we now know the way via the 806 – the bus stop a 10 minute walk from where we were staying.
I have already described Mondello in one of my previous blogs – but a pretty bay and being a bank holiday and warm day it was very busy.
I tried to find something to eat but everything was seafood so was a challenge so Baci Kiss ice cream was on menu then I had a nice time sunbathing on the beach.
The sea is a beautiful turquoise and there were a number of boats racing in the distance. This is the life!
Day 17 – I was back with my volunteering duties at Ubuntu. The language was still a problem but think I was being accepted by the children. I helped with drawing, teaching them numbers and days of week in English. We then played a game where all the children lined up against the wall – I throw a beach ball and the children had to get out of the way without being hit by the ball, if they were they were out and the last one standing was the winner. This was quite energetic but at least the language was not a barrier and everyone was having great fun including me.
- Etna is the highest volcano in Europe standing at 3,323 metres and is also a quite active
- In 2008 activity went on for 6 months
- In 1669 molten lava flowed through Catania, the 2nd largest city in Sicily
- Etna erupts almost on an annual basis and wrecks havoc with the nearby villages and roads
- From Rifugio Sapienza, with conditions permitting, you make ascent to the summit either on foot or by cable car and jeep
- The famous theatre in Taormina was built where it stands because of the prominent setting with the views of the sea and Mount Etna
- The Greeks would use the theatre for concerts and tragic plays – but when the Romans used the theatre this would have been used for gladiator shows and you can still see the pits where the Lions would be kept.
- According to the Greek historian Diodorus Taormina was founded by the Sicilians in XI BC.
- In 1410 Taormina become the seat of the first parliament for election of the King of Sicily
- The Odeon is a small roman theatre in the middle of the town and was built entirely of bricks made by hard limestone but most of this now has been buried under the construction of the Church of St Catherine.
Though it was lovely laying there listening to the waves down by the sea in Letojanni below from Taormina, the room was quite cold so took a while to get to sleep. Got up reasonably early and we had breakfast on the terrace overlooking the sea.
We then had another trip up the mountain again – must try and find a ‘u tube’ of this as its hard to describe. Anyway as always the hair raising trip is actually worth it once you are in Taormina. Taormina is classed as the Jewel of Sicily.
We were going to get a bus further up to Castelmola which is a village overlooking Taormina – so would be an even higher ground experience. The castle dates back to Norman times and was used as a defence fortress and prison – now they do falconry shows here. This has been classed as one of the prettiest villages in Sicily.
One of the churches – San Baggio is located right on the edge of the cliff as is the castle and both have panoramic views and a direct view to Mount Etna. The origins of Castelmola date back to pre-hellenic times and was once named the Acropolis of Taormina. Mylai is one of the first to settle here.
Castelmola was also mentioned in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, where there was steamy goings on between Baroness Frida, Mrs Betty and Peppino D’Allura, a mule keeper. D H Lawrence fell in love with Taormina and stayed there for 3 years.
Florence Trevelyan was a british noblewoman married to Professor Cacciola, who set residence in Castlemola and lived in a pretty stone cottage with a magnificent viewpoint and which still stands today.
Anyway we never managed to get to the village, due to time restraints, although we can see it from Taormina.
So we headed for the Greek Theatre – this was a must for me. Once inside you sort of felt transported back in time – the Greeks used this theatre for plays and concerts and with the backdrop of Etna it must have been a show to remember. The Romans did come in at a later date and there is evidence of roman brickwork, but the theatre is considerably well preserved. Romans used this for their gladiator shows with the lions waiting in the pit, which had previously been used by the Greek performers to ascend to the stage.
One of the reasons the Greeks built this theatre here was because of the direct views with Etna.
I have some amazing pictures and these will follow.
After this we walked to the cathedral – it is amazing how long the main street is, it seems to go on for ages and at the end is another amazing set of views. The cathedral was small and not as elaborate in comparison with some of the others in Sicily that I have seen but set in a lovely piazza and still worth a visit. You could spend ages meandering down these streets, there are lovely boutiques, gift shops and in the lanes lots of art shops plus an abundance of places to eat.
After lunch we went to look at the times of the bus back to Catania to head home. We had to go back down to Letojanni to get our cases and come back up again to get the bus, but the local buses were not running for about two hours so we had to get a taxi down the hill, grab our cases and then back up the mountain again – by now I was just looking out the window and not feeling too bad about the heights anymore – as we had been up and down quite a lot by now. Luckily because there were three of us it did not work out too expensive.
We just made it back to the connecting bus with 10 mins to spare back to Palermo – the journey running a lot smoothly than on the way there. It was very hot so was glad we had air conditioning.
On the way back we passed Enna – this is a town which is at the highest point in Sicily around a 1,000 metres up. It is a medieval town and has been conquered many times, because of its vantage points. In fact, the Arabs tried for 20 years to conquer Enna but to no avail, until they decided to go in via the sewers. We could not get a good view of this town as we passed it, because we then went into a series of tunnels.
Anyway we got home fine and the journey was a lot easier than on the way there.
Well today I was looking forward to as we were off to Taormina – I had read so much about this place.
Well as usual public transport was a nightmare! We decided to get the 10.30 bus to Catania, but because we were so worried about where to get the ticket and bus, we got to the station an hour too early. As it happens ticket booth and bus stop were in close proximity – which is not always the case here, so we were erring on the side of caution and had to sit in the heat for an hour. We also had been told not to worry as the bus is never full – but today there was a coach party – hey ho. Anyway the bus was comfortable and air conditioned at least.
The journey took us a little down the coastline and then across country and it was a lovely journey driving through the mountains really pretty and sometimes quite spectacular. But the real joy was when while on the coach we had Mount Etna in our sights – it looked magnificent. She (I call her she) was pretty much with us for at least half the 2 and half hour journey.
We then had to change buses at Catania but the stop we got off, although it was a bus station, it was not the central bus station (which we needed). We had about 30 minutes between connections, but because we got off too early, we were about 25 minute walk away from where we should have got off the first bus and got on our connecting bus. Three of us running across Catania in the heat – not happy. Well information is not brilliant here and we are becoming experts now.
So as we started to drive through to Taormina, you could definitely see that this place is very refined and many of the rich stay here (hotels and houses are beautiful). We started to climb the mountain up to the town, which was a bit hair raising and I do not like heights, but you could not avoid looking as the views were amazing. Sometimes it was a sheer drop and my heart stopped when another bus was coming the other way.
Well we were staying by the beach so the good news (NOT) was that we had to go back down the other side of the mountain to get there – on another bus. Well this was even more hair raising with bits of road hanging out of the side of the mountain. Again my heart stopped – I do not like going over Hammersmith flyover – that is not even in comparison (just imagine the flyover sort of hanging on its own to the side of the mountain) – did not seem normal, but amazing engineering. Just glad I was not driving – I would have froze.
Anyway we got down safely and got to our room which was not bad for the price. It was still early so we decided we wanted to see the town – so it was up the mountain again on a bus – I was getting a little braver each time and just had to look at those views. Unforgettable!
So the town is very clean and very nice shops and restaurants. Some hotels/resorts are gorgeous – but very expensive. Little restaurants are hidden in every nook and cranny – it is a darling place and I do want to go back so I can really take it all in.
We walked up to the Greek Theatre which is right in the town but it was just closing – I was hoping to see the sun set from there. So we decided to leave that for the next day.
Maria and I decided to go to the American Bar in the Grand Hotel Timeo – top hotel with a terrace that had wonderful views – drinks were dear here but it was worth it to soak up the sun, watch Etna and the views of the sea. I have delusions of grandeur anyway so sometimes I need my fix of high society.
We then walked along the town to another large terrace, which had a sheer drop and more amazing views – so much to take in. After eating in a lovely restaurant (Yes I enjoyed the food), it was back down the mountain again.
I decided to walk along the sea front and listen to the waves before turning in for the night – zzzzzzzzzz
I was up early this morning to attend a presentation at the Centro Asstali – this is a Centre for immigrants in Sicily – here they will provide essential services such as washing and clothes washing facilities, breakfast and also services like doctors, lawyers etc. There are also services for victims of physical abuse.
The centre will help them with all immigration documentation, gaining a driving licence and any other sort of administration issues. A lot of volunteers assist with the day to day running of this growing establishment.
One criteria that the immigrants have to reach is to learn Italian and they have a year to do this.
The talk was in Italian, translated in Polish for a large Polish contingency and then Maria translated it for me in English so quite a feat to get the story behind it but I did manage.
There are a fair number of immigrants in Palermo and in comparison to Northern Italy and other parts of Europe – Sicily in general is quite a poor country.
Later that afternoon I went with Maria to the English Garden which is in the posh part of Palermo – this was a bit of a walk but I am getting used to this now. It was a lot greener than other parts of Palermo (which is not rich with flora) and it was quite nice just to sit and take everything in. What I found quite hard was the busts of prominent people defaced with graffiti – there is a lot of that here and it is a shame.
We then decided to walk a different route via the port for a change of scenery – it was not the most salubrious of areas – but we did come across the prison and apparently rumour has it that some of the Mafia imprisioned there would have their food brought in from the finest restaurants. It looked a very foreboding place so we did not hang around too long.
Then is was back home via the Teatro Garibaldi – which is another impressive Theatre.
Day 11 is a short and sweet blog. Not a lot to report except for very very hot weather.
I had my usual update meeting and Italian lessons – we are learning the verbs at moment and so I am struggling with this I will be honest.
I then went on to Ubuntu which is the first of the Kindegartens I have worked at – one little girl there called Gloria spoke very good English otherwise I find communication difficult as I struggle with the language. I helped build a collage today which brought out the creative side in me.
On the way home I decided to go mooch around a department store and at the top of this there was a Mozzarella Bar selling all things Mozzarella – with amazing views across Palermo. Well Mozzarella is one of my faves so decided to make this my dinner. It was fantastic but way too much, enough for two people at least. Apparently these places are all over the world including London – Obika. Worth a visit if you like Mozzarella :o)