Sunday, September 25, 2016

Flying solo in Sicily

Due to work stuff, I had to spend all summer there, chained to my desk. I know! Such hardship and injustice has never been exceeded. Summer was slow to get going here in Brussels, but it has been hot and sunny for quite some time now (thankfully no longer as hot as it was).

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

As you may guess, the trip actually passed without incident. I spent the first day or two on high alert, but gradually reduced my vigilance. There were a few times when I wandered into some narrow back streets at night or early in the day and my heart beat faster, but for the most part I stuck to main streets in the mostly pedestrianised centre and felt perfectly safe. Outside the pedestrian area, I found cars were used to negotiating pedestrians walking in the narrow roads, so it felt perfectly safe wandering along in the middle of the street and moving aside when I heard a car or bike coming up behind me (I think I've seen studies that show it's actually safer for pedestrians and vehicles to share space - presumably only in certain circumstances i.e. not multilane highways - because everyone is more careful and alert). I even got used to the strange habit of letting fireworks off in daylight hours (I heard them around my hotel pretty much every day I was there).

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
I arrived late afternoon/early evening on Saturday, so just had time to wander up and down the Via Maqueda, one of the main and semi-pedestrianised streets of the old town, just steps away from my (very nice) B&B.

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. 


  1. Great photos, especially of the fountain of shame!
    Interesting change to read a blog post about a place I couldn't explore with you.

  2. Sicily has been on my travel destination list for years. You'd think I would have gone the year that I lived in Italy but it's so far south that even from Milan you pretty much have to take a plane, so I never did.

    I found the south of Italy in general very different from the north. I didn't feel threatened due to being female, more just vulnerable to things like scams and pickpocketing due to being foreign. As a female foreigner (and often just "not from this village" already counts as being exotic), you definitely attract a lot of interest, but I suspect there might be a culture of protecting women who are alone, whereas in a couple or a group you might be seen as a fair target. Just a theory, though.

    1. Interesting theory! There was only one time I really felt t was a bit dodgy. Thought I would try walking a different way to find somewhere less touristy for dinner and there were just men hanging around in the streets the way I went. I never feel comfortable when there's groups of aimless men and no women around

  3. Old model i-phone?? Pretentious moi?

    1. Très. All my phones have been hand-me-downs, if it helps.

  4. Great post. Glad it all turned out well - (back to having 'adventures', haha). M x


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