Day 23: Historic, Cacophonous Palermo

We had a bit of a slow start this morning after not sleeping very well, but the cannoli, cakes, and cookie offerings at breakfast made up for it.  Sicilians really know how to do breakfast right. 

A quarter of the Quattro Canti

A quarter of the Quattro Canti

We were out the door by 10:00 and headed straight to Palermo’s main intersection of Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, also known as the Quattro Canti (Four Corners).  Elaborate buildings adorn each corner, complete with small fountains, and the intersection itself is octagonal, with each building situated on an angle to collectively form 4 sides with the streets themselves forming the other 4 sides.  While all of that is visually appealing, and we’d never seen an intersection like it, what was almost more interesting was watching the traffic navigate this busy crossroads.  Sicilian traffic.  No, even deeper than that, Palermitan traffic.  Traffic lights seemed to be mere suggestions, and we sat entranced as cars, Vespas, and horse-drawn carriages would enter the intersection all at once only to become entangled in a huge knot, then the horn blowing and frenzied hand waving would commence before the knot would slowly unravel and everyone went on their merry way, only to engage in the same ritual at the next intersection.  It was one heckuva way to do business and left us wondering what exactly is taught in a typical Sicilian Driver’s Ed course. 

The giant, multi-tiered Fontana Pretoria

The giant, multi-tiered Fontana Pretoria

From there we walked around the corner to see the Fontana Pretoria, a magnificent fountain with several statues depicting animals and naked people.  Near the fountain is La Martorana (€2/each), a church Natalie had recommend we see due to the intricate mosaic work.  The craftsmanship was indeed amazing, and we were fortunate to be there at a time the sun shone through from the windows above and really accentuated the artwork. 

The result of a steady hand and perseverance at La Martorana

The result of a steady hand and perseverance at La Martorana

Our next stop was to Mercato di Ballaro, an outdoor street market selling produce, meats, fish, foodstuffs, household goods, and clothes.  It stretches for several blocks and, as you can imagine, the smells range from fragrant to pungent.  We’ve seen various forms of these markets before in our travels, and I can never help but be suspect of the meat handing procedures.  Does anyone else think laying slabs out on a table all day, exposed to the elements and local fly population is a bad idea, or am I’m just too Victorian?  Or not Victorian enough?

We then walked a ways down the busy Corso Turkory and turned north to the Palazzo dei Normanni, which now serves as the seat of Sicilian Parliament.  It would have been hugely appealing to go in if parliament was in session, as we could only imagine the advanced level of hand gesticulating that would go along with a group of Sicilian politicians congregated in one room, but since they weren’t we only ducked in long enough for a bathroom stop.

The commanding Cattedrale

The commanding Cattedrale

Next we started heading east back down Corso Vittorio Emanuele, stopping to see the main Cattedrale.  As expected, it’s a massive, imposing structure on the outside and very cathedral-like on the inside, with a history going back to the 1100s.  While it wasn’t as over-the-top as other cathedrals we’ve seen in the world, it certainly held its own and the beautifully manicured piazza out front was a very nice touch. 

Cathedrals and museums are one thing, but THIS is a top sight

Cathedrals and museums are one thing, but THIS is a top sight

After the Cattedrale we continued all the way to the waterfront, making our traditional mid-morning coffee stop and window shopping along the way.  After reaching the waterfront we ambled around the harbor for a while before turning back inland toward our hotel, where we had one more important stop to make:  the Coffee & Chocolate Café on Via Principe di Belmonte.  We had spotted it the evening before and noted with interest the extensive list of specialty hot chocolates.  Well, it was now or never, as our time in Sicily was drawing to a close.  And yes, the hot chocolate was every bit as delicious as we’d anticipated.

In spite of all the walking we’d done, and in spite of the stops we’d made, it was only 14:30 by this point.  Anywhere else in the world that itinerary would have taken us easily to at least 17:30.  But not in Palermo, the land where Time Stands Still.  We were exhausted by our to-do list, and our to-do list was exhausted of items to do, so we went back to the hotel to take a break from the never-ending din of Vespa swarms whizzing down the streets and wait for dinnertime (Vespa, by the way, means wasp in Italian and is appropriately named.  Jim called the streets of Palermo “Vespa Nation”).  It was official, road weariness was setting in, likely kicked into gear because our minds knew we were going home the following day. 

An impish man... and my husband

A couple of impish, jovial men

Around 19:00 we headed out for our last dinner abroad, and it was to be a gourmet meal of… Indian food.  Indian food?  Yes, Indian food.  While we had eaten some spectacular meals on this trip, our palettes had grown jaded of the ubiquitous antipasti, primi, secondi, and pizza options and craved a different flavor profile.  So that’s how we found ourselves the first (and only) ones seated at Moon Indian Restaurant, being served a wonderful, flavorful meal by a sweet family who had emigrated from Bangladesh.  They took very good care of us and we left beyond stuffed.

Once back in the room we commenced the final packing and organizing formalities before falling into bed.  This was it, the last night, and the next time we were to sleep horizontally it was going to be in our own bed.  That last night feeling is always so bittersweet.

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