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  • Writer's pictureswedishvikingprinc

Palermo - The fantastic City of contrasts and surprises

I've already told you the few issues we had in Palermo, but now I will tell you about our experience and our thoughts.

Palermo is a very surprising place. Initially we thought we had booked an Airbnb in the ghetto. Arriving late in the afternoon we saw a lot of dodgy people and we thought the stories about pick pockets was serious and to watch our stuff like hawks. How wrong we were! I don't think we have felt quite so safe in a capital city before...

Palermo was the kind of place you could 'see' in three days of constant running from one UNESCO site to another, with some meals in between if you were short on time. I would not recommend that. We had a month and it would never be enough! This is a city that, although dirty and rough around the edges, it was full of surprises and it has a magic about it.

The most shocking surprise (let's get it out of the way early) was how abrupt the people were. I'm generalising, but the people in Palermo are not warm and friendly. At all. Perhaps it is they way in Sicily. We noticed they were the same with each other, not just tourists, although they were often rudest to tourists (will tell you a story about our host, later). On the odd occasion, we would be welcomed to a restaurant or bar and feel like they actually wanted us there. We did go back to those places...

Other negative aspects were minimal from our point of view. The most notable was the rubbish. Yes, there was a pretty efficient clean up each night, but the rubbish started to pile up the moment the last lot was taken away. Also the buildings that were left to ruin were a sad sight. I suppose it may be due to insufficient funds or an inheritance awaiting tax to be paid...who knows? There was some rebuilding being done and some restoration which was a welcome sight. If I had a spare million, it would be fun to renovate one of those beautiful relics!

Once we saw past that, we found a city full of beauty. It is a phenomenally beautiful city with constant change. Any street you walk down in the morning is transformed to something else by the late afternoon or evening. One moment a street can be a market selling fish and fresh produce and cooking food in the street, the next, a nightclub! A square that's full of drunken revellers one evening can be a sophisticated cafe scene in the day time. It's wonderful! The pedestrian strips allow people to walk past cafes, bars, stall holders and shops. People get wedding photos taken in the Quatro Canti and horse drawn carriages dodge the Ape's (tuk tuks). It's exhilarating.

The landmarks are phenomenal. Churches can be simple, but not so much in Palermo. Even a church tucked into an indistinguishable corner takes you to someting that may well be one of the most ornate places you will ever see.

The people that were lovely, were very welcoming and it made our time there fun. I loved wandering the streets and seeing the sights, smelling different smells (some better than others) and hearing the calls of the market vendors. The colours were brilliant. Markets were full of fabrics, ceramics and clothing covered in the Sicilian designs. The town is walkable, but if you want to take a bus, they were plentiful and the tour buses were affordable, if you like that sort of thing.

Beyond Palermo there are beautiful places. My husband and I did a couple of cruises to Mondello beach and beyond. Lovely to be on the water. We also went for a weekend in Cefalu and it was magical. I was in dire need of salt water and sandy beaches, so off we went. The local beaches are dirty and not well kept, so we avoided those. It nearly killed me spending so much time away from the beach in mid summer. Incidentally, we were there in August, during a heat wave! I should add that the organised beaches were cleaned daily, but the piles of rubbish bags were left behind a fence to the side, awaiting collection. Again, this happens at night, so the next lot of rubbish is replacing that each day.

If people ask us now if we would live in Palermo, we would probably answer no, for now. We haven't ruled out going back for a holiday at some point to see if we still feel the same. If we were to live there, it would be outside the central city, closer to the coast (a clean bit) and near train lines to give an easy run to other places as needed. I'd probably have to start a 'Clean up Palermo' thing to sort out the beaches. We both think we'd do better if we spoke Italian...

I did do a week (three hours a day for four days) of Italian lessons in a group. The first few days I was still thinking in Greek. I had been trying to learn Greek for a few months before we got there, so it came more naturally. On the second evening we were in a restaurant and met a lovely French couple. I hadn't used my school girl French in decades, so decided to try that out. The next two days in my Italian course was disastrous as I kept answering in French! Next time I do a language course, it will be longer term and I will put the TV on regularly to get the ear for it... Next time we may stay longer to do a course as it would help us make ourselves understood better.

In a nutshell, Palermo is a definite maybe for a possible retirement place. I am writing this in early December and we have been to a couple of other places since. Often we will talk about Palermo and the buzz of the place. Nowhere since has had that. We walked around the City and thought 'wow, we love this place' only to come across a local person being a dick and thinking 'far out, we want to leave, now'. Having said that, you could spend decades here really getting to know the place. Each turn of a corner showed you something new... You get a sore neck as you're literally looking up, left, right, down as you go. We didn't want to miss a thing! The marina was in the process of getting a makeover and I have seen that they are about to open up the new development. It needed it as that was the only connection to the beautiful sea. Perhaps, in another 5-10 years the beaches will be clean and useable, then we can retire there!

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