Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Palermo, Sicily

We had heard a lot of negative things about Palermo, and Sicily in general, that were not very cheery while planning our trip. But we were going with a trusted tour group, Go Ahead Tours, so we knew we were in good hands. I have to say that some of it is true but most of the things we heard were not what we experienced. 

First of all, let's address the elephant in the room...the Mafia. While their presence is, obviously, still felt by the people, they are not tolerated any longer. Everywhere we traveled in Sicily we saw huge signs that said NO MAFIA. These are wonderful Sicilian people with a lovely heritage and there is a lot of really wonderful things to see. So be aware but no need to be fearful.
 So let's start of with the fun, and not so fun part, of eating in a city. We set out to get lunch our first day in Palermo and walked up the street from our hotel to a place we were told served great pizza. The doors were open, one of the tables had a couple sitting and eating but when we walked up the owner said "We're closed." We pointed out the posted hours, and we were within 30 minutes of break time, and that there were other customers. Nope. Closed. We guessed that the owner was resentful of tourist business for some reason. Confused we crossed the street and went into a lovely little cafeteria called Caffetteria Amani where we ordered from the counter and sat outside on the patio watching the foot and street traffic on Via Emerico Amani. For a few euro I got this sausage sandwich and drink. The sausage had been cooked inside the roll and there was a sort of spicy mustard-like sauce inside. It was very good and filling and the people there were simply wonderful. 
 But the real treat of this al fresco meal was dessert. I'd never had a cannoli before and was told that the best place to try them was in Sicily where they were born. So I ordered that and the fozen pistachio dessert. Pistachios are a big deal in Sicily, as are lemons, so you will see both nearly everywhere you go. This is the place to try anything pistachio or lemon based. This was a small cannoli, about 4 inches long by 1 inch wide and stuffed with marscapone cheese and chocolate chips. It was wonderful! The frozen pistachio was pretty yummy too but the cannoli was amazing. I'm a huge fan now!
 Shopping in Palermo is fun! There are lots of shops on every street that feature couture fashions and accessories. Being a cake designer I got a kick out of this window that had both fashion I loved and awesome looking cakes too! (In case you are wondering...the "cakes" are actually foam squares covered in fondant which is a sugar paste that, over time will turn rock hard. That's how they could make a window display out of them.)
 And, yes, there are little touristy shops. I collect magnets from my travels so we just had to stop in here. I picked up a cute little vespa magnet while my mom and friend shopped for other items inside. I got a big laugh out of the store front and, I have to admit, it is why we stopped here for our kitschy souvenirs.
 Just travelling around town is a really fun thing to do. There are plenty of little plaza's like the Piazza Castelnuovo which wasn't far from our hotel.
 Modern touches are everywhere to be seen as well.  Italy marries the old and new really well here in Palermo. On every block you will see the combination of both. This "bottle wall" was part of the art that is easily found all over the city.
 In fact, our hotel was very modern. Unfortunately they were not quite up to standards inside. With this tour company you will, normally, be treated to hotels that are 4-5 star places. Really lovely. At the last minute they had to change hotels and, while this one had just been renovated, it wasn't quite done renovating yet so I'd give it 2 stars at best. 
 The view from our room was the docks of Molo Piave which included this little lighthouse. Not as ornate as those I have seen but it was cool to watch after dark. Our view also let us see the cruise ships that port here from time to time. 
 Riding around on the bus is always fun. The drivers take us on the "scenic tour" each time we leave the hotel. The bonus of having a bus tour is that you don't have to navigate the roads and can have a glass or two of wine with lunch if you wish. And you get to see sights like this one of the City Gates of Palermo. The "Porto Nuovo" or New Gate is from 1583.
 Grand churches are to be found in every neighborhood so you may see as many as 10 crossing the city. As ornate as the churches have been, that we have seen, in Italy, these churches seemed to be even more ornate. As you can see, there is a new level of decor on each tier of this church.
 You will find horse and carriages available but be aware that they are very pricey and that, as with all transportation, you need to negotiate the ride in advance. The drivers are also very aggressive. I don't remember a single time we left our hotel that one of the drivers didn't approach us asking us if we wanted a ride. We never took them up on it but others did. One of the places they can take you is the lovely Opera House. If we ever return this would be something I'd like to see inside as well.
 Under renovation not far from our hotel was the Teatro Politeama Garibaldi. Built in 1859 and it is considered an "every day" theater used for operettas, celebrations, holiday events and even equestrian shows! 
 Here is a good idea of how they marry the old and the new into this city. You can see block after block of modern streets and cars and buildings but every now and then you see an older building like this one with gorgeous ornate details. 
 And every day we  could we splurged on gelato! See the one on the left...yup...MINE all MINE. Yummy Pistachio Gelato! This is from our favorite little corner restaurant near the hotel called the Antica Pasticceria Bristol. That translates to Bristol Ancient Pastry. There was a cafe type restaurant and a walk up pastry/gelato bar as well as an espresso bar on the main, street level of the building and downstairs a much nicer restaurant. The food was good but the desserts and coffee were amazing!
The gorgeous Palermo Cathedral is downtown as well but we'll come back to that next week! Just a little something for you to look forward to exploring!


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