On the Road to Palermo, 4.1.12

As a child, I learned that Italy is shaped like a boot kicking a soccer ball.  That soccer ball is, of course, Sicily.

One hundred years ago, some of my great great grandparents journeyed from Palermo to New York City.  Now that I have visited island, I can only imagine the mixed feelings they must have had about leaving.

Here there are Greek ruins, Norman castles, and exotic hints of North Africa.  A giant volcano, Mediterranean breezes, dramatic mountains, and salt flats.

The roads are chaotic and stressful even while the people are laid back  and kind.

The food is delicious, whether it is a simple blood orange, a vegetarian eggplant dish, or a ricotta filled cannoli.

The next few posts will be about my amazing Sicilian vacation with my husband and my mother.  I only hope a few words and pictures can do it justice!

On Sunday morning, we boarded a plane in Budapest, only to have the flight attendant announce that there was volcanic activity on Mount Etna and that we had to wait thirty minutes to see if we could take off.

I envisioned our flight being cancelled and almost had a panic attack.

After about a ninety minute delay, we were in the air and on our way.

When we landed in Catania, we picked up our rental car and headed to Palermo to meet my mom.  I snapped a picture of the angry volcano that almost ruined my vacation.  You can see the smoke coming out of the top.

Mount Etna

Because of EU investment, Sicily has highways that are modern and smooth.  As a passenger, I gazed in amazement at the dramatic views zipping by my window.

We had planned to pick my mother up at the Palermo airport, but because of the delay I suggested that my mom take a bus to the city center and then get a taxi to the bed and breakfast.

The next hour and a half was intensely stressful.  My mom’s purse broke, she was harassed and followed by an old man, and our rooms weren’t ready at the B&B.

Meanwhile, Jesse and I got lost.  As soon as we left the freeway, traffic chaos ensued.  There are lines on the road, traffic signs, and stoplights, but these are disregarded most of the time.  As far as I can tell, the police never pull anyone over for a traffic violation.  They only help in case of an accident and occasionally issue a few parking tickets.  Otherwise there is a tacit agreement that there are NO TRAFFIC RULES.

Jesse plunged into the insanity and somehow we found the train and bus station, but no parking.  I was on the brink of tears when we decided to abandon the car at a temporary spot and find my mom.

In the end, there was parking on the small street immediately in front of the apartment building where our B&B was located.   A simple U-Turn and one left turn, and the car was safely parked.  Miraculously, it was neither ticketed nor stolen.

Once we were out of the car, I could begin to appreciate Palermo’s unique personality and energy.

As the afternoon turned into evening, more and more people filled the streets. In the U.S., downtown areas often feel abandoned and empty as soon as commuters go home to the suburbs.  In Palermo, people live in the city itself, and at night they go outside to enjoy their city, to see and be seen, and to eat and drink.

Hungry and tired, we enjoyed a celebratory late afternoon meal together and sipped some delicious Sicilian red wine. At 4:30, the gentile old restaurant owner pointed to his watch.  The restaurant was closing for a few hours and would re-open around 8:00 PM.  We left the restaurant and took a walk.

View from our B&B

Sunday Market

We wandered down to the Villa a Mare, a park by the sea.  I couldn’t believe that I was actually looking at the Mediterranean.  The water is insanely blue.  The park was bustling with families playing soccer and flying kites.  I enjoyed the fact that there were no tourist groups.  We were just mixed in among locals.

Later that evening, Jesse and I met up with his friend from Kalamazoo.  This friend is lucky enough to be spending the school year doing research in Palermo.  Over dinner, he, his wife, and their friend gave us tips about what to see in the city and on the rest of the island.  It was a great way to end our first day in Sicily.

We learned quickly that Sicily can be frustrating, but if you have a “go with the flow” attitude and accept the chaos, you will have a great time.


Filed under Italy, Sicily, Travel

2 responses to “On the Road to Palermo, 4.1.12

  1. Judging from your story, I’d say remaining on the brink of tears was a huge success! I would have never thought about traffic woes, as I envision so much serenity on the island. Thanks for the reality check. 🙂 I’m looking forward to hearing more about your time there!

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