Sicily Began in Palermo

Buildings in Palermo, Sicily
Buildings in Palermo, Sicily

Sicily began in Palermo. Or, that is to say, it did for me. This is my first trip to Sicily and I started it in Palermo. I don’t know if there is any sense in which one can truthfully* say that Sicily began here geologically, geographically, or historically. I suspect not, but I’m too lazy to try to find out. Feel free to research that and get back to me if, as they say, that’s what floats your boat. (They say a lot of nonsensical things, don’t they?)

(*People can say any untruthful thing they want if they don’t mind being liars.)

Speaking of being truthful, if I want to be accurate (not particularly, but I will be anyway) I should say that I didn’t really land in Palermo. The airport that’s known as Palermo Airport (Aeroporto di Palermo) is in a town called Cinisi, a more than 40-minute shuttle bus ride away from the stop closest to my hotel on the route. (There is a train, but If I used it, it would have taken me longer to get to my hotel. A taxi is allegedly much faster than the bus, but, according to Rome2Rio, it can cost well over €100, depending on traffic. The bus costs €6 one-way or €10 return.)

I had a choice of two airports to land at on my chosen circle route around Sicily, Palermo or Catania. The flight options from Toronto to Palermo were marginally better than to Catania. So, I chose Palermo. Had I looked at the airport locations on a map, I would have chosen Catania. That airport is much closer to the city it serves.

Again according to Rome2Rio, I could have walked from the airport to the centre of Catania in 40 minutes. Or a taxi would have taken 7 minutes, and cost only €30-40. Let that be a lesson to you. When planning a trip, dig deeper in your research than I did before coming to Sicily.

Oh, well. Live and learn. Having said that, I’m 70. I need to start learning much faster if I want to have enough time left to take advantage of what I learn.

Palermo Airport Experience

To get to Palermo, I changed planes at Rome’s airport, Fiumicino. The connection went smoothly, with my suitcase traveling in the same planes as I did. However, my experience in the Palermo Airport was a tad annoying.

The authorities there required that arriving passengers put their bags on a conveyer running through what I assume was an x-ray machine. The signage said it was for “customs.”

I thought that was strange because I came in on an internal Italian flight, i.e., from Rome. I went through a customs and immigration checkpoint in Rome. Aren’t customs checks supposed to be for people arriving from outside the country? Despite the customs check, there was no associated passport check for most passengers. So, what was that all about?

Maybe I was wrong about what customs meant in that context. Maybe they x-rayed my bags looking for clues as to what national and ethnic customs I follow. But I don’t think so.

There was only a very short line at the conveyor and no one’s bags got pulled off for further inspection while I was there.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, Joel. You’re such a whiner! Why are you making such a big deal out of such a minor inconvenience?”

Well, yes I am a whiner. It’s my thing. But I haven’t gotten to the aggravating part yet. So, please, save your ridicule about my whining until I get to it.

Here it is. A few paragraphs ago, I said “there was no associated passport check for most passengers.” Note carefully the “for most passengers” part of that.

Just past the conveyer, the authorities had a dog sniffing arriving passengers. The dog ignored most of them. Most of them, but not me.

The dog determinedly drew its handler’s attention to me.

The thoughts that went through my head weren’t pleasant. “What the what? Apart from the occasional Aspirin and Advil, or their generic equivalents, and the exceptionally rare prescribed antibiotic, I’ve never used drugs in my life. Not even as a teenager in the late 60s. Never.”

An officer pulled me aside, took my passport and asked me to wait. I waited. He scanned my passport and copied information from it into a log book.

Turns out, the dog wasn’t searching for drugs. Another officer told me it was searching for money. Seriously. The dog was obsessed with money.

That officer took me into an inspection area and asked me if I had a lot of money with me. He joked, “like a million dollars.”

“Um, no,” I replied.

I have a little Canadian currency on me. And I always get some of the currency of the country I’m visiting before I leave Toronto, but not a lot because I use my credit card for most purchases. And because it’s 2023. There are ATMs pretty well everywhere if I need them.

I showed the officer the contents of my wallet. The bills in it were fairly new. Apparently, that’s what triggered the dog’s olfactory cash sensors. The dog is particularly sensitive to new bills.

I’m traveling with two bags. One is a small backpack. It holds my electronics. I also packed a couple of pairs of socks and underwear so I’d have two changes of those if my checked bag went astray. The backpack is too small to hold anything more.

The checked bag, on the other hand, is too big to bring aboard a plane as carry-on.

The officer asked to look inside my backpack. (Yes, he did ask, not demand. But the request would probably have turned into a demand with extreme prejudice if I said no.)

He wasn’t at all interested in looking in my suitcase.

I’m thankful he didn’t want to rifle throughout my suitcase, but I don’t get it. If a money launderer stuffed a backpack the size of mine with €100 bills, it probably wouldn’t be enough to buy a small condo in, say, Rome. A suitcase-full could probably buy a small country.

Yeah, I exaggerated there. But you get my point.

The long and the short of it is, I generally like dogs, but curse them and their dog! That’s ten minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

Yeah, okay, maybe I am a whiner. Let’s continue, shall we?

Wandering Around Palermo

Narrow street in Palermo, Sicily
Narrow street in Palermo, Sicily

By the time I landed at Palermo Airport after the connection in Rome, experienced my airport adventure, got to my hotel, checked in, and used the bathroom in my room, it was almost 5:00 pm. So, I didn’t have much time to explore Palermo before getting some dinner and (after writing this) crashing due to acute jet lag.

Nevertheless, I did wander around a bit.

So far, Palermo is pleasant. (“Pleasant” probably isn’t the best word, but I’m trying to earn some frequent alliteration points.)

Old and oldish buildings line most of the streets. And the streets are varied. Two long, large cross-streets are mostly pedestrianized. Although, the odd taxi slowly plies portions of them when it has to. The occasional motorcycle, bicycle and scooter also intrudes. But they truly were only very occasional when I was there.

Below, I posted a picture of a part of the square formed by the intersection of those two streets.

Narrow lane in Palermo, Sicily
Narrow lane in Palermo, Sicily

There are also some streets barely wide enough for a car. In fact, I thought they were pedestrian lanes until I saw a car drive up one.

And then there are some that truly are pedestrian laneways.

I also came across one busy thoroughfare. It had two lanes in each direction and traffic whizzed along it. There were some crosswalks, but drivers typically ignored any pedestrians who tried to venture across them, such as, oh, I don’t know, me. There were some signalized pedestrian crossings, but cars turning from the direction with the green light, didn’t stop for pedestrians who had a green light for the signalized crosswalk.

A public square at an intersection of pedestrianized streets
A public square at an intersection of pedestrianized streets

At one such intersection, a steady stream of cars made turns. The pedestrian signal cycled through green-, yellow-, and red-lit stick figures. But, because of the turning drivers who didn’t take pedestrians into consideration, I think the only thing the lights signaled to pedestrians was when would be a good time to die.

Red: Wait right there, fella. You don’t want to step off the curb and die right now, do you?

Yellow: Look, if you want to die now, that’s your choice. But there are better times to do die.

Green: Go! Go! Go! This is a super time to get yourself killed by a turning car! You do have life insurance, don’t you?

Palermo Cathedral

Exterior of the Palermo Cathedral
Exterior of the Palermo Cathedral

During my wandering, I accidentally came across the Palermo Cathedral. Its exterior is handsome in an imposing sort of way.

I went inside. And, because this is the sort of thing that happens to me, they were getting ready to close, so I didn’t have much time to look around.

Visitors can climb up to the roof (for a fee) to take in the view from there. That is to say, visitors who arrive a little earlier than I did can do that. I couldn’t. There is also a museum and some other fee-based areas of the cathedral, but they close even earlier. I may come back another day.

Interior of the Palermo Cathedral
Interior of the Palermo Cathedral

But I did get to look around the main part of the cathedral. It has multiple apses, altars, and artworks. It also has things not starting with “A.” but mentioning them doesn’t win me alliteration points. So, the heck with them.

Driving in Sicily (Gulp)

My four regular readers know from following along on the posts on my trip to Greece (and from knowing me) that, to put it mildly, I’m not a huge fan of driving, particularly outside of Canada and the United States. That’s especially true when the mapping app I use tries, with great determination, to kill me. Nevertheless, I booked a car for a few days later on in this trip to Sicily.

However, the driving part is still in the future. We’ll see how it goes. For now, I’m here to enjoy Sicily. I said, I’m here to enjoy Sicily! Are you listening, Tourism God?


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