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Palermo, Sicily

"In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns." - Calo ~ The Godfather.

sunny 28 °C
View Mediterranean Cruise on Anja Fourie's travel map.

Today we are docked in the darker part of Italy. Mafia country.

Palermo is the home of the Sicilian Mafia, also known as the Cosa Nostra. The city has a quiet, eerie feeling to it. The streets are emptier than all the other Italian cities I visited. Could this be an effect of the Mafia? Or is this merely a fantasy playing out in my head? There are apparently up to 4000 active members of the Mafia in Palermo. On my trip here, I try to spot a Mafia member or something giving away evidence of Mafia activity. I find nothing, but I guess that is the point. If I could point a Mafia member out from the crowd, he wouldn't be a very good Mafia member, now would he?

1. Docked at Palermo
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Compared to the famous cities of Rome and Florence, Palermo looks poverty stricken and dirty. Palermo is the largest city and port on the island of Sicily. It used to be a part of Greece and later became part of the Roman Empire. In 1861, Sicily became a part of Italy.

2. Post office of Palermo
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A tourist map shows eight places of interest in Palermo. I give the Marionette Museum and the Archaeological Museum a skip. I follow the map to Quattro Conti, the exact city center of the old Palermo. The four buildings surrounding the city center are all decorated with statues and carvings. On every corner in Palermo, there are also horse-drawn carriages that take you around the city for 5 Euro.

3. City center of old Palermo
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All of the carriage men try to get my attention. One whistles at me and I decide it is time to brave the heat of the summer day. I leave the shadow of the buildings and walk down the road to the next destination on my map. A man on a Vespa suddenly drives up the sidewalk right in front of me. My first thought is that he made an accident, but he turns around a throws a big smile at me. "Gelato?" he asks. It takes me a moment to realise he wants to buy me an ice-cream. I shake my head no and start to walk away. This does not discourage him at all. He starts to follow me on the sidewalk, slowly riding his pale blue Vespa behind me.

My next destination suddenly appears before me. The Cathedral. Sanctuary from Mr.Blue Vespa and sanctuary from the Sicilian heat. This 12th century Roman Catholic church, with architectural styles from the Middle Ages, shows a stark difference to the Renaissance flair of architecture in Florence or Pisa. The appearance is almost Gothic and Middle Eastern at the same time. This could be leftover from the time that Sicily was under Arab rule.

4. Cathedral and grounds
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Further down the street, the last thing to see is the Palace. I can't find a way into the palace, but with the sun bearing down uncomfortably on me, I didn't look too hard for an entrance either. I rather just stroll through the palace gardens. Later I found out that this is the current seat of the parliament of Sicily and not a tourist attraction.

5. The Palermo Palace and gardens
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Walking back I accidentally stumble upon the Piazza Pretoria. This is a beautiful fountain which was originally built for a villa near Florence, but ended up here. Somewhere down the street I walk into a church. This isn't even on the tourist map, but I go in anyway. Here I just sit down a little to get away from the heat. It is really quiet, peaceful and beautiful inside the church. The great thing about beautiful old churches are that they are tourist attractions, but generally do not ask any entrance money.

6. Piazzo Pretoria
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7. Inside the little church
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As I walk back to the port to return to the ship, I buy myself a bottle of water. The shopkeeper realises I am a tourist and that I don't speak Italian. "Where? Where?" he excitedly asks.
"South Africa." My answer is met with a blank expression. "Africa?" I try again.
His face lights up as I see understanding sinking in. Then, confusion. "But...uh...you...uh...white?"
"Yes." I smile. The language barrier is far too great to explain this one, so I just show him my R5 coin instead. It looks exactly like a 2 Euro coin. Both have a golden circle in the middle, surrounded by a silver band. He gets immensely excited about the coin and I give it to him to keep.
"Ah, I remember! I always remember!"

I say my grazies and my ciaos and the shopkeeper hurries outside to wave to me as I walk down the road. Sicilians are definitely a lot friendlier than main land Italians. I smile as I wonder if I would be part the dinner conversation that evening.

Next stop: Barcelona

Posted by Anja Fourie 14:43 Archived in Italy Tagged horses fountain florence cathedral dirty sicily friendly palermo

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Comments

You come from the most beautiful city in the world, Cape town, no wonder Palermo did not capture you at all! We have our Table Mountain, Waterfront, the magnificent view from Bloubergstrand etc.
We also have our "crazy" drivers, but taxi drivers, but you also get used to that.

Why would anyone hang himself on a luxury cruise ship?

Enjoy Majorca for the second time.

by Helena Fourie

You say Palermo did not capture you at all, but remember you are spoilt as you come from Cape Town, the most beautiful city in the world, with our Table Mountain and wonderful baeches and Waterfront and also the magnificent viw from Blouberg Strand where you can see Table Bay at it's best! It seems that everywhere in Italy there are "crazy" drivers! In South Africa we have our "crazy" taxi drivers, but you also get usd to that.
I is also so sad that someone might hang himself on a fantastic holiday, maybe there are some foul play going on? Enjoy Majorca for the second time, then it's the Spanish cruise!

by Helena Fourie

The pictures of the church and cathedral are lovely, no matter how dirty the rest of the city may be!

by David

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