Massi and I decided to tour the city from morning until late afternoon so that we could still fit in a stint at the city’s famous beach, Mondello. In that time, we probably saw less than a quarter of the recommended sites and only a very small section of Palermo. It was stifling hot, so we often sought refuge in the churches more for a place to sit and cool off than for historical interest. Massi kept chastising me for being “touristy”, refusing to acknowledge the fact that in Sicily, he is also a tourist. Our Italian didn’t help much in terms of communication- we were often left perplexed at the simplest exclamations in Sicilian dialect. An entertaining example is when we asked what flavors of granite (a slushy drink) were available and ended up resorting to limone (lemon) because we couldn’t understand the other options that the barman rattled off to us.
All in all, Palermo is gorgeous. However, there is a certain normalcy to some of her main streets, contrasted by the grittiness of others. She lacks the quaint side streets to wander down like you can in Rome. Many of the alleys we “wandered” down were actually quite rough and reminiscent of South or Central America. I can admit that had I been alone, I would have felt extremely uncomfortable and Massi even said he felt uneasy at times. If I had to pick a “must-do” in Palermo, it would be Mercato Ballarò (a street market). It’s noisy, smelly, and all-around chaotic but it is true to the je ne sais quoi charm of so many markets across the world, from Africa to Asia. Stop here and have some street food- pane con la milza is probably one of the most renowned, although you can have your pick of seafood (check out the photograph below). To top off your day, you gotta have a cannolo. Ours came courtesy of a local who advised us to go to a pasticceria across from the station, next to a pharmacy, on Via Roma. Those were literally the instructions- no name, no exact address, but I can assure you that those directions will lead you to the right place! More on Palermo and San Vito lo Capo in the next post!