Last year we were unable to go home for Christmas due to lockdown and travel restrictions. Now that the rules are slightly more flexible, we have decided to return to the UK to spend some time with family and friends for a few months over the winter.
After searching for convenient (cheap) flights home, we found the best option was a direct flight from Palermo, the capital city of Sicily on the north of the island. This would be a 4-5 hour journey so we made the most of the opportunity to have a ‘mini break’ in Palermo.
After a couple of days of final preparations to the boat taking down the solar panels, enclosure and bimini, we put on our old (rather mouldy) winter cockpit cover and set off. One of our friends in the marina gave us a lift to Vittoria where we could get the bus to Palermo. The rain started as we arrived at Vittoria so we were slightly damp by the time the delayed bus arrived. Keen not to miss the bus we trundled out with our bags to each one that arrived hoping that it was the ‘one’ only to be sent back. By the time the Palermo bus arrived, everyone at the bus stop, next door cafe and taxi rank called out to tell us ‘this is the one’!
After about an hour the bus stopped for a short break at a service station before continuing on. Forty minutes later it pulled into a familiar looking service station, it took me a few minutes to realise that we were actually back at the same place. The bus driver had left someone behind and had to return to collect her. There were a few disgruntled passengers.
We eventually arrived at Palermo and checked into our B&B. It was a huge old Palazzo with a grand entrance door. After dropping off our bags we went for a look around, but it was getting dark and still raining heavily so we didn’t get much further than the nearby cafe and then onto a local restaurant for a traditional Sicilian meal.
The weather was due to be changeable and the following day started lovely and sunny so we headed out to see the sights of Palermo. Referred to as a cultural melting pot dating back many centuries and having the influence of Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman and Italian rulers, there was plenty to see.
We strolled around the narrow streets and walked through extensive street markets full of a variety of produce including fruits, seafood, spices, cheese, meat and the famous local street food. It was very colourful with lots of activity as people looked for bargains and locals cooked up their own delicacies, all creating a great atmosphere as we passed through.
We walked on and came to a grand baroque square commonly known as Quattro Canti although officially named Piazza Vigliena. It has a symmetrical fountain on each corner, dating back to 1608. The facades represent the four seasons and are highlighted in turn by the suns passage throughout the day, referred to as Il Teatro del Sole (Theatre of the Sun). It is a unique square enlivened by buskers performing and horse drawn carriages waiting to take people on a tour of the city.
Close by is the monumental Fontana Pretoria. This fountain is located in the centre of the old city but was first built in the city of Florence in 1554, it was transferred to Palermo in 1574. Apparently the local residents at that time were not impressed and called this fountain Fontana della Vergogna “Shame fountain”. The circular tiered fountain’s nude nymphs, tritons and leaping river gods proved a bit too much for Sicilian churchgoers.
As with many Italian cities there is never a shortage of grand buildings, palaces, Churches and Cathedrals with elaborate designs, statues and piazza’s.
The 12th-century Church of San Cataldo in Piazza Bellini was less elaborate than others being of Arab-Norman architecture with its square shape and three small Arab-style domes. The old City Wall can be seen running underneath the Church. San Cataldo is annexed to the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio also of Arab-Norman architecture.
The old city is very compact and close by is the 12th century Cattedrale di Palermo. Apparently the reason for building such a grand cathedral was to surpass the beauty of the nearby Cathedral of Monreale, architectural detail was exaggerated due to the competitiveness. Set in a pretty piazza full of trees, we found a great spot to sit and admire the intricate detail (have a rest), people watch and soak up some sun for a while.
We walked down towards the port and through the old city gateway with its ornate facades. Built between the 16th and 17th centuries the gateway still serves as a demarcation line between the old and new cities.
Opposite the gateway, we sat in the il Parco della Salute for our picnic overlooking the sea. There had been a few spots of rain but as the sun shone through there was a vivid rainbow in the sky.
After walking around the marina and fishing harbour we visited some of the local park areas.
The Giardino Garibaldi is a small 19th Century city park with old fig trees. within the park is Palermo’s oldest and biggest Ficus Macrophylla tree. It is 25m high and 150 years old with huge columns of roots which have grown down and into the ground to support itself.
After a day exploring Palermo the weather started to deteriorate again and it was time to return to the B&B. We collected our bags and walked across the road to the train station for a short journey to the airport.