With a week left in Italy, a jaunt from Naples to the isle off the toe of Italy’s boot sounds like a place to zero in on, and specifically to Palermo, the capital. Our ten hour ferry ride is relaxing and fun nestled in our private cabin with bunk beds, our own facilities – only leaving our cocoon for meals.
Palermo, fits us like a glove. Our experience can best be summed up as “Eat, Walk, Love”. It’s a good thing we did a lot of walking as eating goes on here all the time; such as when shopping, commuting, romancing, business meetups. We are quick to follow the local eating patterns and love the city’s rich vibes and sights along our walks.
This enticing city is street food heaven, with stalls all over town from which waves of hot snack odours waft through the air. We line up with locals and visitors alike and pick out our delight to be eaten on the spot – nine-times-out-of-ten for us its spongy oily pizza topped with tomatoes, onions and caciocavallo cheese).
Palermo street markets are not to be missed. Our favourite is Mercado della Vucciria. Piles of every fruit and vegetable we recognize, and some we don’t. We gawk at the football sized tomatoes, grapes the size of plums, and how about these three-feet long zucchini! Other vendors sell smelly fish, spices, nuts, cheeses, jams, meats, clothes, shoes, hats…you name it!
Outdoor restaurants/cafes are in the mix, with tables so close to the narrow crowded walkway, even the Italians refrain from their usual grandiose hand gestures when talking to avoid whacking someone or worse getting their hand clipped by a motor cycle edging along. The chaotic scene is entertaining as we munch on a variety of deep fried fresh-from-the-sea morsels.
We cover a lot of ground daily, taking in the historic old town, cathedrals, palaces and the modern upscale areas.
The Teatro Massimo is the pride of the city. This art nouveau grandiose masterpiece is the 3rd largest opera house in Europe.
The Cathedral of Palermo in Arab/Norman architectural style –which encases its history of being a Christian church, a mosque, and Christian church again. The royal tombs in the nave and crypt are most interesting.
Then it is up to the roof-walk for a bird’s-eye view of the old town centre, the domes of other churches, and the mountains surrounding Naples.
We must have looked walk-weary when our Alma Hotel owner out-of-the-blue tells us how to catch the Free Centro Storico shuttle bus for tourists, that zig-zags around town with stops at most of the main attractions. We learn first-hand it zips down some harrowing backstreets and we’re the only tourists on board this day. Locals get on and off with shopping bags and some seem to be commuting to work or home again. Although we have already seen most of what we pass along the route on foot – what’s not to like about a free bus ride?
To us westerners Sicily has long been known as a Mafia stronghold, which locals claim is no longer the case. This brings me to another food item and Rick’s insistence, “We just have to find some cannoli”. Our walks involve keeping an eye out for this Sicilian cream filled pasty that he heard mentioned many times on the TV series, The Sopranos. At first bite we’re hooked, and where better to indulge than where this delight originated.
Our Palermo time soon comes to an end, and yes – our intake of eats did “out-weigh” our walks, but that’s a matter to resolve later. We take the ferry back to Naples, and after a few days it is onto Rome – and then home.
Our Southern Italian summer is one to remember full of encounters with gracious locals, fabulous cuisine, and wondrous sites – of which our experiencing the outstanding Herculaneum and incomparable Pompeii cannot be overstated!