Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Piazza Marina, Palermo, Sicily

On of the great things about Go Ahead Tours is that you are treated to wonderful tours, one of which I'll cover next week, but then you have lots of time to just enjoy the city or town you are in and explore on your own. With a half day at our fingertips we decided to venture out just a little bit past the area of hotel and go to the Piazza Marina. I had read that the little cafe's there served amazing seafood and it was not to be missed. 
 After reading the sidewalk menus we decided on lunch at Gulu. This charming cafe had a very romantic interior, perfect for a secluded lunch for two and a charming open air patio out front that seated about 30. We chose the open air so we could enjoy the view instead.
 Caponata, "Capunata", is a typical Sicilian dish. Made from chopped, fried eggplant, celery, olives, carrots and sweetened vinegar and roasted with capers. Served in Sicily with seafood dishes we were thrilled to get tempura vegetables and flatbread with our appetizer of this local treat.
 We did all order seafood and mine was prawns with wide noodles in a sauce that included pieces of fish and octopus. Up till this point I'd never had octopus in any form except calamari so it was definitely a new experience for me. But I had said I was going to try everything on this trip so I dove in...and was rewarded by some really amazing food. 
 The scenery was hardly a chore to look at while we ate. As with most of Italy the building details just take my breath away. Even something as small as a window box for flowers makes the difference. 
 The Piazza had a lovely fountain...or it looks lovely from a distance. If you click on this photo and see the larger version you will notice, as with many of the fountains we have seen in Europe, it's actually rather bizarre! A woman on the back of an eagle, or turtle, perched on demons, or gargoyles  which is perched on sea shells that are perched on fish...it really is bizarre!
 But there were many really lovely details on the buildings in the square as well. The three of us were very appreciative of the physiques of these "men" holding up their frames.
Even the "plain" buildings were completely gorgeous. I fell in love with the sculpted window treatments on this building.
 While most of the buildings in the square are carefully restored there is plenty of signs of age in these buildings. Even on these buildings you can see how the smallest of beautiful details, like the railings on the balconies, stand the test of time.
 And, speaking of beautiful details, there were spectacular doors on nearly every building. I have a "thing" about pretty windows and doors and Sicily is a buffet for someone who appreciates the workmanship and art that go into such a beautiful entry.
 In the Piazza is the Palazzo Chiaramonte. Originally the home of a Sicillian Lord, it is now a museum. Since we were walking around during the quite afternoon hours, when most Sicilians are on their own lunch break, the museum was closed so we simply enjoyed the details on the outside of the building.
 There is a very interesting story about the center of the Piazza. A small park area fills the center of the Piazza and is dedicated to a New York Policeman. The plaque says it's from the "Higher Institute for Defense of Traditions". "In this place on 12 March 1909 at 8:45 pm, by treacherous means, the mafia did end the life of Joe Petrosino, Lieutenant of the New York Police. The City remembers and honors the sacrifice of the Italian-American Investigator." Joe Petrosino was the head of the Mafia unit in New York which had made great strides in ending the crime sprees there. So successful that Palermo, dealing with their own infestation of Mafiosa, asked him to come over and work with them to clear up their problems. Unfortunately someone in the mayors office was so excited that this "celebrity" was coming over to see them that he spread the news all over Palermo about when and where Petrosino would be. Including the Mafia. In honor of his service and as a continuing reminder that the Mafia is not welcome in Palermo, they dedicated this section of town and this park where he died to him.
 Unfortunately this still isn't a great part of town and while the Banyan trees are huge and beautiful, this park is not somewhere you want be after 4 in the afternoon. There were few in the park when we visited in the middle of the day. As we were continuing around the square an older man approached us, asked us where we were from, and then let us know that, due to the rain moving in and the light getting dim, it was time for us to leave the area...not safe for us. We took the hint and continued the last corner of the square till we returned to the taxi stand where we started.

 This side of the Piazza is probably the prettiest. The wrought iron balconies remind me of New Orleans with the intricate designs on the brightly colored buildings. Even the lamp posts are works of art.
There were a few streets that headed off the Piazza and, honestly, if we had not been afraid of spending too much more time in the area, we would have loved to have explored even more.

On the corner, leading back to the marina is the Church of Santa Maria. The Chiesa di Santa Maria della Catena was closed for renovations but the outside just struck me as being so very different from the architecture of just one block away. This was something we noticed in many parts of Palermo. Not just the old and new side by side but the different eras of architecture just steps away from each other. 

At this point it began to rain and we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel. A quick word about this. We ended up with a little scooter cab which, while it was a hoot, tons of fun and the two teen boys running it were a riot (seriously, a little comedy team that kept us laughing every second of our journey) it was also hugely expensive. If you decide to take a less common form of transport, and there are horse drawn carriages, busses and these little scooter cabs everywhere in Palermo, negotiate your rate FIRST.  We made this mistake and what cost us 10 euro to take a cab to the Piazza cost us much more than that to take the fun little scooter cab back to the hotel. In the end we didn't regret it. It was totally unique, a lot of fun, completely entertaining and we didn't have to wait or walk back in the rain. All in all worth the cost. But if you are on a budget don't take the chance, negotiate first.

Next week I'll take you out into the city so you can see more of what we toured while we were there!


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