Thursday, April 7, 2016

Dirt, noise, crumbling buildings all part of Palermo's charm

Arriving at Palermo airport we were just in time to catch the airport bus into town. Our hotel was in a residential neighbourhood within walking distance of the Old Town. It didn't take us long to unpack and be on our way.

We enjoyed the walk along Via della Liberata, window shopping at all the high-end Italian stores like Gucci and Prada with all their elegant clothes. Eventually, we ended up outside Teatro Politeama, a lovely round-shaped building where the symphony plays. Crossing the road in Palermo takes all of your attention. You don't walk out at crosswalks but wait for a lull in the traffic. Sicilians don't really see a need to stop for pedestrians. We bravely negotiated two streets to end up in a gelateria and patisserie where we had a well deserved espresso and cannoli. While we were enjoying this we watched two girls have a brioche gelato — that’s right, ice cream in a brioche bun. It looked lovely.

Fortified, we continued on our walk along the pedestrian streets passing the Teatro Massimo. The street eventually became a little seedy as we ended up in Piazza Pretoria, Palermo's most famous square. Its beautiful fountain — originally intended for a Tuscan villa — was bedecked with nude statues and mythological monsters. It was called Fontana Della Vergogna or " fountain of shame" by outraged churchgoers. I loved the expressions on some of the statues. The piazza is flanked by two churches and the Palazzo Pretorio, the city hall ,complete with a plaque commemorating Garibaldi's 1860 triumph ending the Bourbon reign in Sicily.

We were discovering just how chaotic Palermo's streets were. The buildings are magnificently disheveled with a mix of architectural styles that point to the wave upon wave of invaders who have claimed the city as their own, as does the look of the locals. There is no one style or people in this urban melting pot.

We headed south to Palermo's most famous market, La Vuccira. The Muslims were active traders and the markets still have an Arabic feel.This area is viewed as a dangerous place at night, especially along its little alleyways. In Sicilian dialect, vucciria means "hubbub" or "voices" and that is exactly what we heard. We stuck to the main roads as we visited the old market. It is known for its street food and there were barbecues cooking meats and fish as we wandered by. Although the market is busier during the day the night market still had some action.

We wended our way down to the port bordering La Kalsa district, which is beginning to be revitalized. Much of this area was bombed by the Allies and not much was done with it until recently. In fact we saw several buildings with just the facade standing. After a walk along the promenade we had dinner in a little alleyway, which was the outdoor eating area of the restaurant located in part of a decayed old foundry. We enjoyed several Sicilian appetizers followed by grilled swordfish, which for some reason we never get in Spain.

After dinner it was quite a walk back to our hotel but enjoyable in the warmth of the Sicilian evening.

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