is a city full of life and variation. It becomes clear very quickly
that Sicily’s proximity to Africa has largely contributed
to its culture and society. This is especially evident within the
larger cities such as Palermo, where it is not unusual to see women
wearing traditional African dress. The Arab influence is also quite
heavily present in cuisine and culture and you won’t have
any troubles finding a good kebab. However Palermo also remains
in many ways a typically Italian city where Catholicism and the
'siesta' hour are taken very seriously! Sicily enjoys a much laid
back Mediterranean pace of life; don’t expect a bus to stop
or start for you, the timetable is simply a suggestion!
Local food here is fantastically genuine and the
menus are refreshingly undiluted by tourism. Many restaurants remain
family run and thus offer a very friendly welcome and a cheap bill
— you can order a litre of wine for €3! Similarly local
shops are often a family enterprise, don’t be surprised to
see a bed and small table in amongst the tins of vegetables; many
families convert their ground floor into a shop or bar, which is
almost always run by Grandma and the grandchildren!
Sites to be seen, smelt and tasted!
Palermo is a beautiful city with stunning Norman
architecture, colourful domes, monuments and (typical of Italy)
shrines back to back, packed in from wall to wall. As with the majority
of the cities and towns in Italy, there are so many places to visit
that are well worth your time, however if you give each place the
time it deserves, you would never leave! The best way to visit the
wonderful buildings in Palermo is to pick the couple that you are
most interested in, otherwise you will exhaust yourself visiting
all the monuments and lose the will to live – or at least
see another church or monument! It is more advisable to pick a few
you are really interested in and focus on those, because inevitably
you will stumble across many others on your way – so don’t
make your list too long!
Palermo has some wonderful churches that need
to be visited, such as the Cattedrale and the lesser known Chiesa
di San Cataldo, however some of the best sightseeing has to be made
down in the markets of Piazza Ballaro. The food market here is buzzing
with people and flies; it is well worth a visit to see the unusual
Sicilian cuisine -although a vast number of hanging carcasses makes
it a little bit of a tummy churner for the faint hearted! The other
market further down the road, has to be seen to be understood. Here
touts attempt to sell anything and everything; from elastic bands
to the odd well worn boot (matching pairs are a rarity). If you
arrive early enough you may have the pleasure to see the tout’s
merchandise being pulled out of the skip before being placed in
prime position on the market stool (or market floor space).
On the main shopping streets in Palermo there are plenty of high
street chains and the odd designer name to fulfil your shopping
desires; however the best shopping is to be done in the jewellery
wholesaler’s stores. Here you can buy your shell necklaces,
bongos, buddas, ‘guccie’ sunglasses and other souvenirs
for a fraction of the price given by the touts on the beach.
Palermo is famous for its puppets, so perhaps the best souvenir
would be an exquisite puppet. However if you cannot afford that
or don’t want to have to explain why you have a miniature
person in your hand luggage, then catching a puppet show instead
is an equally fulfilling option. There are many puppet shows around
Palermo but the best are Cuticchio, 95 via Bara all’Olivella
and Argento, 1 via P.Novelli which take puppetry to epic proportions!
You could visit one of the many puppet museums, however if your
interest in puppetry is limited then a show is where you should
spend it and leave the museums for the fanatics.
There are many hotels in Palermo, but the number
of hostels is limited so camping outside Palermo centre is a more
budget option. During the summer months a hostel opens up (or rather
students rent out their rooms) behind Piazza San Saverio. I fully
recommend this hostel which offers single or double rooms for €20
a night including breakfast and free internet access. Typical of
students, the hostel is run with minimum funding but maximum effort
and in the courtyard (with a bar and 'disco lights'), free parties
are offered a couple times a week. Whether it be a beach watermelon
party or chilled out Brazilian music, it is sure to please —
especially at the end of the night when the students kick up their
heels and embark in a very impressive display of traditional Sicilian
dance, fantastic! Although I would warn you that the free BBQ translates
to salty tripe on French stick, not everyone’s favourite but
the Italians seem to really like it!
Moving beyond the boundries...
Palermo is a bustling city but it is also worth
your time to catch the bus just outside of the city to Sferracavallo,
a quant fishing village with two great campsites. Always check with
the driver that your bus is going to your destination, often they
just do half the route. If you understand a little Italian (or can
at least use 'mamma mia' half convincingly) locals are very helpful
with directions! The small town offers a number of good cheap seafood
restaurants; I encourage you to try the 'Ricci' (Sea Urchin) and
see why it is a popular Sicilian delicacy — I am still trying
to work that one out! During the summer the restaurants and gelaterias
are packed with a very family orientated crowd who dine until the
very early hours.
The coastline is rocky with small sand beaches and the water is
an impressive colour however on closer inspection the many different
colours seen in the harbour are various varieties of seaweed! If
seaweed is your greatest fear than this is a great chance to get
over it — or alternatively almost hyperventilate in the water,
kicking and screaming after diving off your pedalo! Either way,
from a distance and for the less seaweed shy, the water is a stunning
mixture of blues and greens and snorkelling is worth looking into.
Sferracavallo has fantastic views of a large mount, typical of the
volcanic Sicilian landscape, which is worth a thousand photos as
the sunset casts an orange glow over the rock and the town. The
national park on the other side of the rock boasts some fantastic
walks from leisurely trails to the more than adrenaline pumping
climb to the top, which rewards you with fantastic views over the
town, harbour and the city.
Whether you plan to beach it or wander through
the streets of the city, Palermo offers a varied and colourful landscape
of people and places from the baroque architecture and colourful
markets to the picturesque fishing villages and the 'multicoloured'
sea. Palermo is often just used as a departure city, but make sure
you book some time here because this coming and going of different
people has cultivated a fantastic mixed culture that will make you
want to stay!