Palermo was a port that I had a tough time planning. James borrowed some videos about Sicily from the library that were horrible and really didn't get us excited about the port at all. We did watch a documentary about the mafia which was interesting.
But then our new friends Karen & Paul posted a walking tour of Palermo with Jackie Alio on Cruise Critic and they were looking for people to join. Perfect! And it was.
Jackie is an amazing guide - very knowledgeable, passionate about Sicily and friendly. She customized the tour to what the group wanted to see and do. There were 8 of us on the tour and exploring Palermo by foot is definitely the way to do it.
First of all the Sicilians consider themselves Sicilian - not Italian. Like Sardinia, Sicily is an autonomous region of Italy. And also like Sardinia they have an intriguing and unique history which blends many cultures over thousands of years.
Right off the top, Jackie addressed the mafia. Jackie was born in the US but moved to Sicily with her parents when she was in high school in 1985. She lived in Palermo through the height of the mafia. Sicily has worked hard to get rid of the mafia. Jackie said the mafia is now stronger in Naples and Calabria. In an effort to demystify and change the mindset about the mafia, school children learn all about the history of the mafia, who all the players were, what happened and when. We did pass by the home of a judge that has 24 hour police protection on it. If there is no mafia, I'm not sure who the judge is being protected from. Hmmm...
We walked to the Theatre - Polieamo Garibadi and then the opera house, Teatro Massimo - the biggest opera house in Italy. The opera scene from Godfather III was filmed here.
We headed to a street market which was fascinating. It was chaotic but at the same time organized. It was full of all sorts of fruits, vegetables, fish, bread, olives and chocolate. We bought some Sicilian modica chocolate. It is an ancient Aztec technique where only the natural ingredients - cocoa beans and sugar...and a flavouring - are used. The beans are ground and sugar added at a low temperature so the sugar doesn't melt. It produces a grainy, flavourful product - very different from the highly heated and processed chocolate that we are used to eating.
There are religious posters and statues everywhere. We went through a church on the market street that had a lot of marble. Jackie told us all about cloistered nuns. There aren't many around anymore but when there were, their place in the church was at the back behind a screen. The nuns would make and sell marzipan, cannoli, almond cookies, etc. In order to sell them , they used a large turntable type thing that would go from the outside world to their quarters - people would write down their orders, add the payment, spin the turntable, the nuns would fill the order and spin it back. No cloistered nun seen in the process.
On our way to the cathedral we stopped by the workshop of a traditional Sicilian painter, Franco Bertolino. He is a fifth generation cart painter and his work is so colourful and fun. It is great to see the traditional folk art being kept alive.
We arrived at the incredibly large cathedral with many different architectural styles - Normand-Arab-Gothic, Baroque,Neo-Classical...and it is being restored. Audi is sponsoring the restoration. Fr. Guiseppe Puglisi, the priest that spoke out against the mafia and was killed by them in 1993, is buried in the cathedral. The cathedral has a heliometer - there are zodiac signs inlaid in the floor and a small hole in the ceiling which acts as a sundial and projects the sun on the floor - tracking the movement of the sun through the sky. This dates back to the 1600's. We visited the treasures, the crypts with vaulted ceilings and the tombs of Frederick (and family).
Next up a cannoli break! The only thing I wanted to do in Palermo for sure was to get a freshly made authentic ricotta cannoli. I did. It was delicious!
The streets in the old town are narrow - scooters, bikes, cars and pedestrians all share the same tiny passage. I captured a bit of it on video. We visited the Jewish area and then on to the Eastern Rite Catholic church - Chiesa Della Martorana with its amazing mosaic tile work. The Fountain of Shame - named because when it arrived from Florence in 1557 with it's naked nymphs, gods and goddess the public was outraged. It didn't help that it was put in the square with a bunch of churches and a nun's residence. It is said that the nuns used to make clothing for the statues. Right around the corner was the 4 corners intersection (video). Each corner has a three story baroque sculpture depicting one of the 4 seasons. Exquisite.
We had lunch at a fun sports bar. Palermo's football team is pink. The group decided to share a bunch of different dishes. It only cost us 9 euros each including wine. It was great and I learned I don't like anchovie meatballs. Too fishy.
A quick trip through the arts & crafts area and we had to get back to the ship.
We squeezed a lot in to a short port stop. I highly recommend a walking tour (bit of video) in Palermo with Jackie. The surprise of turning a corner and having something uniquely unexpected in front of you is truly exceptional. Palermo is chaotically charming and there is beauty in the grittiness. Thanks again to Karen for finding the tour with Jackie!
Back on the ship we went for birthday happy hour, walked the deck and got ready for dinner. We ate at the Tamarind (delicious of course) and after our meal James got a very large piece of cake with a very formal birthday greeting and the staff sang to him (video). It was great.
Another perfect day...and another port I want to go back to!
Warning there are a lot of photos. And I wanted to add more.
The opera house
At the market - love the cigarette!
In the market
The modica chocolate in the market
Some of the painted items by Franco Bertolino - more below
One side of the cathedral
The float for the St. Rosalie celebration. It changes every year.
Fountain of Shame
Chiesa Della Martorana - so many gorgeous mosaics!
The streets of Palermo...this is an area they are going to work on restoring. I think it's charming the way it is.
James with Taurus - his zodiac sign in the cathedral