So in September, when the situation at work changed, I leapt at the chance to take a few days away somewhere. I booked one week to travel the next, so looked for somewhere not too expensive, where the weather would still be reliably good and not too far away. I fired up Skyscanner, set my search options to "everywhere", and after considering Croatia and Greece, my eye fell on Palermo. Sicily had never been particularly in my consciousness, but it seems in the last couple of years I've been noticing more blog posts and articles about it, and I have a few pictures of its beautiful golden cathedrals on my pinboard.
So, Sicily it was. And as soon as I booked, it seemed more articles started coming out of the woodwork. Articles that spoke of the mafia, of pickpocketing and drive-by scooter muggings, of which areas you shouldn't walk alone at night and which areas you shouldn't walk alone full stop. I told an Italian colleague I was visiting his country. "Oh, all of Italy is fantastic, where are you going?" "Sicily." "Where in Sicily?" "Palermo." "Ah, all of Italy is fantastic, except Palermo. Palermo is terrible, dangerous". He did admit he'd never been and "didn't go south of Rome", but I was uncharacteristically unsettled. I told myself that I'd travelled, mostly solo, to places as diverse as Ukraine, Morocco and Albania, but doubts over my choice of destination lingered. Jules wasn't able to come, due to work, and I realised this would be my first truly solo trip since we met two and a half years ago. I worried that I'd gotten older and more fearful and lost my self-reliance and adventurousness. Getting ready for the trip, I took off all my jewellery, took all unnecessary cards out of my wallet, equipped myself with an old-model iPhone and dug out and old handbag with a chain strap so it would be less easily snatched or cut.
|View flying in to Sicily|
That's another thing. Palermo is noisy. If you're looking for a really relaxing, chill-out destination, it's probably not here. Shouting, drumming, blaring music from cars, loud motorbikes, honking horns, it has it all. Funnily enough though, when it got to about 11 pm, and not much later on the weekend, pretty much everyone quitened down by universal accord and other than the odd passing bike and a garbage collection one night at 2 am, it was quite peaceful.
|View from my hotel room|
|The "passeggiata" (evening stroll) on Via Maqueda|
|One side of the "Quattro Canti", a crossroads adorned by four matching buildings with statues of Kings and saints|
The Opera Massimo. Not sure if this guy just likes dressing up or if that's a real uniform of some description
|The Fontana Pretoria. The square was nicknamed the "Square of Shame", due to the naked statues on the fountain and also the historical corruption of the municipal institutions housed there|
|San Cataldo church|
|Statue on the Fontana Pretoria|
When I ventured out for dinner, I came across a noisy parade featuring banners on long poles, which lined up in the Piazza Pretoria. They proceeded to toss the banners, balance them on their chests, palms or even in their mouths and generally dance with them, all while wearing medieval-style costumes. Unfortunately, I don't have any great photos and I have no idea what was going on, but it was quite cool to see.
|A young boy with some of the banners|
It was quite a good introduction to Sicily - traditional, noisy, lively and mysterious.