San Nicola 22/01 –
We are parked up in the car park for the marina at San Nicola which we have made our base for exploring Palermo as we haven’t the bottle to drive into the centre. Here we are a five minute walk to the railway station which gives us access to a free 25 minute ride into the centre of town. We have tried to pay but there are no people or machines available for us to part with our hard-earned cash. There is not a lot here apart from a marina and café that does a roaring trade day-and-night selling Pizzas, ice-cream and kebabs to guests far and wide. It also has a garden frequented by the local lads who sit for most of the evening in the glow of purple lights listening to rubbish music and hoping beyond hope that a similar number of like-minded females will show. None so far. What this place does have are wonderful views over Palermo Bay. Look See.
Parco Natural Regionale delle Madonie 22/01/2014
Instead of carrying on along the coast from Cefalu we chose to venture inland to the mountainous playground of the Madonie national Park. Here you find some os Sicily’s highest peaks, including the imposing Pizzo Carbonara of pasta fame and a litter of handsome hilltop towns. There is reputed to be a host of interesting fauna including wolves, wildcats and eagles. We didn’t see any of these but we were fortunate enough to see a dead hedgehog and a magpie. We had planned to visit the town of Castelbuono and then stay overnight in the village of Isnello. Sadly a couple of things conspired against us; firstly the state of the roads and secondly the state of the weather.
There are three circuits around the park you can drive or cycle of varying lengths. We chose the one that kept us at a relatively low altitude as we are on summer tyres, have no snow-chains and I am a bit of a crap driver. Sadly the roads are some of the worst we have come across with potholes the size of a small planet and major subsidence everywhere that water run-off crosses. This nightmare-ish scenario is exasperated by busses continually hurtling past at high-speed like out-of-control space hoppers bouncing from one deformed highway feature to the next. This gives rise to the question; Do Sicilians have flat heads?
Castelbuono is a pleasant enough town with a square Norman fortress plumped on top of the hill and standard narrow streets around its base.
With a thousand hilltop towns to see we decided not to linger and carry-on bouncing around towards Isnello. This is a beautiful part of the world but we went against staying the night and after visiting Isnello we headed down towards to coast. Some pictures:
Hilltop town whose name escapes me
Towards the Coast
Up nice and early to catch the 9:39 into Palermo. Except there is no 9:39 to Palermo, there might have been once, there might be in the future, it appears on every website offering train times, but according to the scrap of paper pinned to the wall of the station that acts as a timetable there is no 9:39. Gone were the plans of an early start and ice-cream for breakfast in a Geleteria and instead it was back to the van for a bowl of corn flakes.
The 10:57 did turn up and we sailed into Palermo on a wave of excitement and Optimism. We didn’t take advantage of the stylish sofas one can make use of while using Italian railways but you can see the pictures:
We headed for Palermo’s top tourist attraction; The Cappella Palatina set within the Palazzo dei Narmanni. This is two attractions in one, there is the Norman Palace which is now used by Sicily’s Parliament and in a separate wing is the Palatina Chapel. This mosaic clad jewel of a chapel was designed by Roger II in 1130 and is gleaming as a result of a painstaking five year renovation project. It does take your breath away. We are not fans of the mosaic art-form with its garish triangles of cut-glass, somehow they always remind you of a gent’s toilet. This though is not any mosaic you will have seen before, this is a wondrous piece of art with every inch of the place adorned with motifs of a biblical nature. Interspersed with the ecclesiastical offering are Arabic-style symbols and carvings. This stuff is better than the Alhambra.
Man in Basket
Man with Book
Nil by Mouth
As this was a Saturday we were fortunate enough to have a troll round the parliament. This involve a self-guided tour around several rooms used by the great and not so-great members of the political scene. The rooms are beautifully decorated in the Baroque style of the 17th Century but do not compete with Chapel.
The final stop on the tour is the bedroom of the man responsible for this place, King Roger, and a peek into his bedroom. And pretty special it is too.
Roger’s ante room
He likes it
Where Roger Rogered
We did pay an extra €1,50 to visit the art exhibition that was taking place on the ground floor of the Castle. It was a collection of abstract art by Sicilian painters trying to make a name for themselves. I hope they succeed but judging by what we saw they may want to consider a career in road repairs. It only leaves us to say it is a place well worth visiting and will leave you with a couple of pictures of the exterior.
Norman Palace Loggia
Norman Palace from Independence Square
After all that glittery stuff we need a bit of balance in our lives and so headed off to visit the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, a building that hold 8,000 mummified bodies and skeletons of dead locals. This involved a good 30 minutes hike away from town and we got there, it was shut, so we have put it on the agenda for our next trip into Palermo. So we leapt on a bus and re-traced ourselves back to the square before walking through the pedestrianised Royal Square and a stop at the Cathedral. This is definitely one building that is far superior from the outside. Architecturally like a lot of large important churches it has seen a lot of people have a go at it. It is Norman at one end and passes through a bit of Baroque before ending on a very Victorian ending. Inside it is just dull.
City Gate Porta Nuova
Norman and Arabic End
Let Sleeping Dogs…..
Leaving the Cathedral we left the old town and started head towards the new town, the commercial hub of Palermo today. There are some wonderful Baroque buildings to be seen, many have been restored but it is the decayed structures that offer most in the eye-candy stakes. There are far too many to photograph as each turn throws up something different and so just to tease you here are a couple:
The Lads of Piazza Bologni
Road Junction Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda
Not a Goatee but a Snakee
Siesta time in Italy is very similar to Spain with most businesses closing between 1 and 4 which means it is time to eat. We made our way towards an institution in Palermo, Antica Focacceria Del Massimo, situated just opposite the Teatro Massimo. It also happens to sit next door to our favourite hat shop. So after buying a couple of hats and with the help of the hat shop owner we managed to get some Sicilian street food in. Gosh it is good and cheap, nothing more than a euro per dish. It is how tapas used to be before it got noticed. I even managed to order mint flavoured potato croquettes served inside a bun, a rather tasty take on a chip butty. Yumtious. Exhausted we headed back on the train and a well-deserved drink in the café behind our van.
San Nicola 24/01/2016
Today we went for a walk, took some pictures and wrote most of this blog. Tracy also met a friend called Melanie who started banging on the door while I was in the shower. Apparently Melanie had got divorced, sold her house in Lincolnshire, got in her car not knowing where she was going and ended up here in San Nicola. Seems a highly improbable story at first hearing until you concentrate on the key-word; Lincolnshire. Suddenly it all seems reasonable, and why wait to you get divorced? I would have thought a night is too long in a Lincolnshire village and I know, I worked there once for a day. In the evening Tracy had Pizza and I went for the healthy option, Crepes with Pasticcio ice cream. Some pictures we took’
S. Nicola, Marina and Norman Tower
An action-packed day awaited us with a visit to the theatre, a wiz round the shops in the new Cityand a quiet stroll among the dead of the Catacombe dei Cappuccinni. To make sure we got everything in we caught the train at the unbelievable hour of 09:03, Tracy still swears she never went to bed that night, she did, but anything less than 12 hours is not a sleep for Tracy. Unfortunately for us we had to pay on the train and it took the ticket collector the entire journey to try and get his smartphone to talk to his smart printer to give us a ticket. In the end he gave up and did the smart thing, he wrote out a ticket using a smart biro and some smart paper. On arrival we purchased some bus tickets to help us get around town as the Catacombes are a bit of a schlap from the New City. Before all that we had a bit of un-finished business from the other day and so we swung by the Fontana Pretoria. This is a huge ornate fountain with tiered basins and sculptures rippling in concentric circles. Due to the explicit carvings of the men, women and nymphs showing off their deliverables the fountain is known locally as the Fountain of Shame.
Naughty but Nice
We did now plan to get a bus to the Catacombe but there appeared to be a two-hour strike of the bus drivers forcing us to walk the couple of miles to our destination.
A couple of pics for you of our journey.
Chiesa Capitolare di San Cataido
Back Streets of Capo, Palermo
Both Tracy and I have seen the odd mummified dead body before in places like the British Museum but we had not seen was 8,000 bodies pinned to the wall mostly wearing the clothes they died in. There is gallery after gallery of skeletons from the 17th 18th and 19th Centuries. There are separate sections for men, women and children as well as a first-class section for virgins. Your position with the arcade is reflected by your earthly status with the well-to-do being propped upright while the lower-orders are piled on top of each other in boxes like rotting fruit in a Lidl Supermarket. We have got a couple of pics for you to show. We also have a video but that will be published later after a bit of editing.
Not so Rich
Bus strike over and mulling around with the dead over it was time to get to the Teatro Massimo for our private tour of this mammoth neo-classical theatre, the second largest theatre in the world. The journey to the theatre took three buses that just sat in endless traffic jams and a twenty minute walk. There are no traffic lights here at the major junctions, or at any junction and everything is just an enormous free-for-all. This mayhem is compounded by cars and scooters driving along the pavement to get round the queues and then re-joining the main thoroughfare willy-nilly. It’s bloody chaos.
This opera house took over twenty years to build in the 19th century and is one of the Iconic landmarks of Palermo. It is also famous throughout the movie world as the location for the closing scenes of The Godfather: Part III. As we both like a bit of Godfather and loathe Ballet and Opera we thought lets go for the private tour. This we thought would avoid us listening to any pretentious dolt going on about hearing ‘Pavarotti at the Met’ or seeing ‘Margot and Rudolf at the Royal’ and allow us to be Al Pacino and the rest of the Corleone family walking around this building as if we owned it. Firstly a picture from the outside.
Our tour was to include the theatre, the stage, and the roof. Firstly this is a huge building and most of it is given over to ancillary services with the auditorium only seating 1,300 in acoustic perfection, no amplification at all in this house. The next thing to note there has been quite a lot of water damage and a lot of the ceilings are showing calcification and paint loss. The last time the place was renovated was back in the 1970’s and that resulted in the place being shut for 20 years. The first part of our tour was to be shown around the foyer, the stalls and the Royal box, yep, I was going to be Al Pacino in sit in the very seat he was in for the film.
View from the Stalls
View from The Royal Box
After this we were shown the rehearsal rooms for the performers and also the ‘echo room’. This room was designed for men to have business meetings at the interval where they could speak in confidence because the hub-hub caused this circular room made it impossible to eavesdrop on somebody else’s conversation.
We next paid a visit to the stage and we got a bit of a shock to the size of the thing. It is the second largest stage in the world and it has 50% larger than the auditorium. I loved prancing about and looking out at the audience, pretending everyone in the five tiers of boxes were hanging on my every word as I ripped through Nessan Dorma. Here is my view and a video.
The World is Mine
Lights and Stage
The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the ‘petals in the roof have opened. This was an early form of ventilation and was used to vent the building on those long summer evenings. Our final part of the tour took us up in the service lift used by the riggers and sparks to the attic 7 stories above the stage. We were now in the part of the building normally reserved for mass murderers or men with humps. Gingerly we tip-toed over the rafters before making our way up a couple of step ladders and out through a hatch to the roof. Here we were rewarded with the best view of Palermo and so we took some shots before re-tracing our steps and finishing the tour.
1 Looking Casual, Looking West
Looking Stiff, looking East
Cathedral and Royal Palace
2 Roof Vegetable
Cliff Houses of Mondello
Gulf of Palermo
Coming up the Hatch
We now went for some lunch with Tracy having a Salmon Salad and myself tucking away a healthy Egg Burger with extra bacon. Suitably refreshed we headed to the shops and the first stop as always is Sephora. Sephora is a chain of Perfume and Lotion shops in every major town and city in the world except Britain. The is Pot heaven for Tracy with floors of potions and creams to poke, smudge and try. We exited after about an hour and €40 lighter with a tub of Face cleaner for me and a tiny free sample of soap for Tracy. We finished up with a last look around before catching the train home.
So that concludes our visit to the capital of Sicily and the last major city before Naples we will visit. It is an interesting place to go for a day or two but is not blessed with enough attractions to keep your attention for much longer. The decayed back streets now home to an ever increasing number of migrants are interesting and offer a sharp contrast to the wide boulevards of the new city and the wealth of the former Norman Rulers. Worth going to? Yea, 4 stars.
In the evening we noticed that Melanie was parked in the car park opposite our van so Tracy suggested to put a note on her window to say we had gone to the bar. Next to Melanies’ was a white fiesta blaring out opera music. As I turned away I noticed the windows were steamed up and a young lady was bouncing up and down on top of a young man’s lap. It was not even 6 o’clock and barely dark and they were in the most public floodlit car-park this side of Benidorm. Show-offs.
Love to all